The underlying psychology of Generation Snowflake

An interesting observation in the latest issue of The Atlantic. Its “Study of Studies” sidebar column offers another few pieces of the puzzle on how a worldview of optimism/pessimism emerges in an individual. The first is that if one is pessimistic, one may appear to have a more urgent and serious communication style, and thus be more socially attractive. That seems valid. The other is that…

“Optimism can also beget disappointment [on a personal level]”

The example given here is of a student who hopefully expects a good mark for an essay, but gets a lesser mark. However it references only one short psychology paper. The paper’s 2010 date is ‘pre crisis’ in psychology, and the sample was 77 “students in a psychology class”, so one has to be a little cautious. One class of malnourished and hungover hormone-addled adolescents does not extrapolate well to the general population. The paper cited is: Sweeny and Shepperd, “The Costs of Optimism and the Benefits of Pessimism“, Emotion, Oct. 2010.

Simplistic, then, but the finding rings true. Such a habitual year-on-year pessimism (arising from unrealistic irrational optimism) could easily become ingrained at the personal level, given the right personality types and intelligence level. Certain types of adolescents could later use that habitual approach to shape their early understanding of the larger world.

The study notes that the biggest irrational optimists appear to be aware of the trade-off between ‘happy-go-lucky today / dashed down tomorrow’…

“people seem to be aware of the potential costs of optimism — participants who predicted higher scores before feedback also anticipated experiencing greater disappointment should they perform poorly”

But they’re willing to pay the price. This seems to relate to the idea that the ability to imagine longer time-horizons is a factor in optimism/pessimism. If you can’t really imagine a time more than a few weeks ahead, why worry about the essay that has to be delivered in eight weeks time, at the end of term? It would thus be interesting to see how such findings fit with each student’s time-horizon and intelligence level. Are the less intelligent and more impulsive students more inclined to be irrationally optimistic about their test scores, because they naturally lack a long time-horizon?

But what if this whole process were monstrously delayed, until after leaving the cocoon of education? Consider the changed nature of that cocoon in the late 1990s and 2000s: i) the cultivation of a vapid universal “self-esteem” in schools; ii) the “all must have prizes” (see Melanie Phillips et al) culture, rampant grade inflation, the dumbing down of the curriculum so that low-grade teachers could handle it; iii) the severe curtailment of children’s ‘free range’ engagement with the natural world, their diminishing opportunities to learn how to handle individual autonomous freedom, and also the constant lurid invocation of dire (but statistically highly improbable) dangers set against a pervasive background of political correctness.

In which case the habitual year-on-year pessimism which Sweeny and Shepperd pinpoint would have been delayed in multiple ways over many years, with the most susceptible personality types perhaps being the worst affected. Possibly then contributing to the monstrous temper-tantrums we’ve been suffering recently, as certain large parts (not all) of the Millennial generation finally encounter the real-world after 20-odd years of smothering and cocooning.

Doubtless others have a better handle on the murky depths of these psychologies than I do, and have already said this better than I can in a hasty blog post. For instance, I hear that the new Vox Day book SJW’s Always Double Down has several chapters which make a forensic assessment of the psychology of the loud-but-small activist segment of Generation Snowflake. But it seems to me that some of Sweeny and Shepperd’s ‘thwarted psychology’ of optimism/pessimism may be at the root of their troubles.

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The kids are alright

What a pathetic response from UK journalists to news of the apparent drop in ‘Saturday and evenings job’ child employment. Not one of them once mentioned online income. Instead there was the usual moaning and pessimism as their columns tediously progressed as if on auto-pilot. They obviously didn’t have even even the mildest inclination to spend three minutes searching Google News for kid entrepreneurs.

It’s not just a few kid entrepreneurs, either. In the USA, “22 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds say they make money online and 16 percent say they work for themselves” and that’s just the ones who were willing to admit it to a 2017 IBM survey. So far, none of that type of income gets tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The phenomenon is probably even bigger in the UK, for various reasons including our creative industries savvy and our better broadband coverage (broadband is often dire in rural America).

While the UK’s newspaper-delivery rounds may have gone the way of the dodo, the bright kids of the post-Millennial generation are staying out the rain and cold and selling on Etsy; doing fan-art commissions on DeviantArt; power-blogging about fashion and make-up for the freebies (which are then sold); doing paid book reviews; eBay trading; selling their weird gloop; staging cool photos for Instagram; starting entire online empires and much more. The maths nerds among them are probably trading in Bitcoin and Cryptokitties, too. And you can be sure that all of that is not starting on their 16th birthday, but long before, whatever the ‘age verification checks’ might say.

Which is all very positive, and a cause for optimism for the future. But they’re not going to tell a “nosy snooper” from a dodgy-sounding “UK Commission” or “Institute” about their side-stream income, now are they? Especially if they’re using their big brother’s PayPal account.

A New Festival of Britain

A proposal: A New Festival of Britain.

“The original Festival of Britain in 1951 was planned as an ambitious celebration of British achievements in the fields of the arts, architecture, industry, science and technology. It was also seen as a good way of lifting the doom and gloom from the shoulders of a weary nation and showing the people of Britain that, for all the hardships they were experiencing, the future was bright and exciting with British scientists, designers and inventors leading the world.

Following the referendum in 2016 and the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, we believe at This England that it’s time to start making plans for another festival: to mark our new-found independence in two years’ time and to celebrate all that is best about our magnificent country and its people.”

Nice idea, but I’m just haunted by the naff-and-tat that was New Labour’s awful “Millennium Dome”. Better to disperse a New Festival of Britain rather than centralise, probably, to prevent it being captured and turned by the usual suspects on the left. Or turned into a creaky old nostalgia-fest.

Better to have everyone doing their own thing, regionally and locally, but you only get funding and accreditation and branding for your event / exhibition / etc if it conforms to guidelines and is optimistic and positive and future-facing.

“Who’s The Denier Now?”

I spotted a strong lead article in the crusty old magazine of the American right, The National Review, “Who’s The Denier Now?”. The new article is a bit ‘American Politics stodgy’ at the start, but the final half is a cracker. Here are some highlights…

“Softened by years of punching down at their opponents’ worst arguments, they became addicted to asserting that “science says so,” and they are now lost when it doesn’t.” [In this context] “Statements about climate change are no longer being policed for their accuracy, but rather for the degree to which they help or harm the activist agenda.”

[Any statement which questions science’s ability to very accurately model man-made influences on the global process of greenhouse warming …] “crosses a red line for activists, because the precision with which climate models can describe what is happening links directly to the precision with which they can describe what will happen”. [And in the resulting overheated media environment … ] “The scope of viewpoints that constitute ‘denial’ is rapidly expanding to swallow all opposition to favored policies.”

There’s a lot more in the article itself, and there’s also a weightier recent article in the journal Foreign Affairs, from the same author.

I was however disappointed that Oren Cass has been suckered by the false establishment media consensus which has been generated around the recent CNBC interview. A false consensus that waves the interview snippet about as if it somehow ‘proves’ that Pruitt holds some sort of ‘anti-science’ position. Here’s Cass in The National Review article…

“EPA Administrator Pruitt confused matters greatly with comments to CNBC last month that went beyond his testimony about “precision” and “debate” and suggested that human activity was not the primary cause of recent warming”

But as I’ve shown quite carefully here on this blog, in a line-by-line fisking of the CNBC transcript, all of Pruitt’s CNBC statements were congruent with the accepted mainstream science on the process on greenhouse warming. Pruitt’s choice of words, in a snatched minute at the end of a quick-fire TV studio interview, might have been better. But he was ‘denying’ nothing in terms of the science, as far as I can see.

Pruitt on CNBC, March 2017: transcript and a line-by-line analysis

Given the fire-storm of public ignorance over the weekend, I felt the need to go through what the EPA’s Pruitt actually said line by line and phrase by phrase, with commentary…


Transcript – CNBC’s Joe Kernen on 9th March 2017, interviewing Administrator Pruitt of the EPA:

Kernen: Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?

Note here that Kernen is asking simply about “climate”. Not about ‘climate change’ or ‘man-made climate change’. Just about “climate.” with a full stop. “climate.” That’s all.

Nor did the questioner ask about ‘temperature’ or ‘temperate changes’. The phrase “primary control knob” is of course used and does imply “control” and thus change. But what the imperfect metaphor of the “control knob” means in the mind of the interviewer is left un-clarified. Of course it does have a specific meaning which can be implied from its use in some scientific papers and in the IPCC summary documentation (e.g. “Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis: Working Group I”), where for instance the IPCC used it as a shorthand to mean that: C02 is the main initial or primary trigger which primes (“forces”) the overall ongoing process of global warming, albeit doing so alongside a number of other initial greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, and after which the IPCC says C02’s warming effect is then greatly amplified via water vapour by a “typical factor between two and three”. (It’s a pity that the metaphor of a “knob” can be somewhat misleading to those outside the scientific debate, since normal people and journalists generally understand a “knob” to be something that is twisted to move heat up and down in precise increments to cause a very rapid and direct response. Like the oven control-knobs in your kitchen, for instance. This is why I feel that the metaphor is an imperfect one.)

Pruitt: No.

Given the phrasing of the actual question he was posed, to the best of my knowledge this answer is scientifically accurate. In the overall ongoing global process of “climate” per se, CO2 is not “the primary control knob” driving “climate.” Remember, he was only asked about C02 in relation to “climate.” with a full-stop. Not about ‘climate change’ or ‘man-made climate change’. Nor was he asked about “man made C02”, just “C02”.

He then continued…

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact.”

So he’s immediately picked up that he’s only been asked about “the climate”, not about ‘man-made climate change’ or ‘dangerous climate change’ or a ‘future greenhouse effect’. As such, to the best of my knowledge, his answer is thus once again scientifically accurate. It’s also an accurate comment on the ongoing state of the scientific investigations around a host of uncertainties on the how different parts of the ongoing process fit together. For instance, it’s certainly been incredibly challenging to get NASA’s research planes to the correct parts of the upper troposphere, where key parts of the greenhouse warming process are thought to occur.

Similarly, it’s an incontrovertible statement to say that there is currently “tremendous disagreement” about “the degree of impact” of “human activity on the climate”. There is, even among scientists, and that measurements are being continually tweaked and revised up-and-down seems to amply display just one aspect of that “disagreement”. Again, remember that he wasn’t asked about ‘man-made climate change’, just about “climate.” But he’s addressing it using the phrase “human activity” — which I’d also note can cover all sorts of things, not just man-made CO2 emissions.

“So no, I would not agree that it is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Now he addresses CO2 specifically in the context of current measurable “global warming”, even though that wasn’t the question he was asked. Reflecting a key NASA paper he carefully uses the phrasing “primary contributor” to the actual “global warming that we see”. He is presumably well aware that while carbon dioxide is indeed the trigger, the “primary contributor” to the overall greenhouse effect is water vapour (~50% of the overall greenhouse effect, according to NASA) rather than the initial triggering carbon dioxide. At a water vapour effect level of ~50%, it is a basic and undeniable scientific fact that CO2 is not the “primary contributor” to the overall effect of global greenhouse warming that we can see happening. Again, in his answer he is not departing from the basic science.

Kernen: Ok.

Pruitt: But we don’t know that yet. As far as, we need to continue the debate and analysis.

Again, factually accurate if rather speculative. He might be leaving it open that that we might in future somehow discover that man-made C02 is the “primary contributor” to the overall global greenhouse warming effect, meaning more than water vapour is. However unlikely that may currently seem according to the physics.

Kernen: I agree, when I hear the science is settled, I never heard that science had gotten to a point where it was, I thought that’s the point of science, that you keep asking questions, but I don’t want to be called a denier, it scares me, it’s a terrible thing to be called. Administrator Pruitt I know you don’t want to be called that either. Um, thanks for being with us this morning.

Pruitt: Thank you very much.

So it’s interesting that Kernen appears sympathetic, and one then has to assume that he knew exactly what his careful phrasing of the question would allow Pruitt to say.

CO2: ‘primary trigger’ does not = ‘primary contributor’

The establishment media is falling over itself this morning to deny basic science, in its rush to find a way to condemn President Trump’s new Head of the EPA. Speaking to CNBC, Scott Pruitt said of carbon dioxide and its role in changing “the climate.”…

“I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see”

That statement is correct and is just basic science, as I understand it. Note also that he wasn’t being asked about ‘man-made climate change’, just about “the climate.” Full stop.

It’s sad that even AFP and Associated Press’s combined science correspondents appear to be totally clueless about the strong water vapour amplification effect — which climate science thinks is the primary contributor to the overall effect of global warming. When one knows about the amplification effect, a key part of the global warming process, then one can see that Pruitt’s careful wording in the key sentence of his reply doesn’t at all contradict the EPA’s key position statement that…

“Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

Because CO2 is “the primary greenhouse gas”. But primary as in ‘coming first in the process’. Being ‘the primary trigger‘ for a much larger amplification effect caused by water vapour (which even the EPA can’t bring itself to list as a “greenhouse gas” alongside the more long-lived but trace greenhouse gases). The strong amplification of the CO2 trigger is thought to be done by water vapour in certain key parts of the high atmosphere, a matter which Matt Ridley has ably highlighted and briefly outlined in a number of his recent lectures. So, as I understand it, the consensus climate science has it that carbon dioxide is not the “primary contributor” to the overall ongoing effect of global warming. As a recent example of the science, here’s Gavin Schmidt (now director of NASA GISS) in the 2010 peer-reviewed paper ‘Attribution of the present-day total greenhouse effect’

“With a straightforward scheme for allocating overlaps, we find that water vapor is the dominant contributor (~50% of the effect), followed by clouds (~25%) and then CO2 with ~20%.”

Which means that Pruitt is scientifically correct in what he said: C02 is not the… “primary contributor to the global warming that we see” today. According the man who is now the head of climate research at NASA, C02’s role in the overall process is “~20%”.

I imagine that Pruitt knows very well the scientific distinction between CO2 as ‘primary trigger’ and water vapour as ‘primary contributor’, but is banking that clueless newspaper and TV science journalists don’t — and that they will now make fools of themselves in their blind rush to hate on President Trump and his team. Also note that he carefully said “contributor”, not “controller”. Water vapour follows temperature, it can’t control it, as I’m sure he knows.

Matt Ridley’s autumn 2016 lecture at the Royal Society explains this aspect of how global warming happens better than I can, in the larger context, and with charts and more besides…

“the theory of dangerous climate change depends on a whole extra step in the argument, one that very few politicians and journalists seem even to know about — the supposed threefold amplification of carbon dioxide’s warming potential, principally by extra water vapour released into the atmosphere by a warming ocean, and accumulating at high altitudes.”


Update: For those who want the hard science, beautifully and clearly explained by the lead scientist on a major NASA mission to the upper troposphere, this NASA TC4 Project podcast is what you want: listen from 6.15 mins to 22.30 mins. The whole podcast is also well worth your time, and this illustration will greatly aid understanding…

Evidently it’s not just about the water vapour and what position it reaches in the high troposphere, but also the ice specks that form there from that vapour and then how fast they fall. Since… “the ice fall velocity (Vi) is the second most important factor affecting the climate sensitivity in GCMs [climate models].” (quote and picture from “Representing the Ice Fall Speed in Climate Models: Results from TC4, SPARTICUS and ISDAC”, 2011)