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2019 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #16

Posted on 20 April 2019 by John Hartz

A chronological listing of news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week, i.e., Sun, Apr 14 through Sat, Apr 20, 2019

Editor's Pick

How We Roll: Study Shows We're More Lone Wolves Than Team Players

Results may explain why collective action on climate change and health policy is so difficult


Credit: Steve Smith Getty Images

What credo would you choose: “Share and share alike?” or “To each his own”? The choice doesn’t relate only to material goods or socialism versus capitalism. It can also reflect attitudes about how we solve our collective problems, such as affordable access to health care or threats from climate change. Despite the existence of shared resources in our lives—water, air, land, tax dollars—some people will lean into a go-it-alone approach, with each individual deciding for themselves what’s best. Others will look to group decision-making. What’s the tipping point for shifting from maverick to team player?

Researchers at Leiden University, the Netherlands, addressed that question using a computer game in which students had to decide whether to use a set of virtual resources to solve a problem individually or collectively. The investigators found that these study participants had a “remarkable tendency” to waste resources for the sake of an independent solution rather than efficiently using what in the social sciences is referred to as “the commons.” The study results were published April 17 in ScienceAdvances.

The choice to follow the loner track even if it means wasted resources probably sounds familiar. Such useless waste, a “tragedy of the commons,” as the authors call it, is one that societies face in all kinds of situations. Study author Jörg Gross, assistant professor at Leiden University’s Institute of Psychology, cites several examples of real-world problems from modern life that inspired the study, including use of public versus private transportation. After all, almost everyone needs to get from Location A to Location B. Rather than create universal public transit solutions, though, people more often turn to using private vehicles. 

How We Roll: Study Shows We're More Lone Wolves Than Team Players by Emily Willingham, Behavior & Society, Scientific American, Apr 18, 2019 

Links posted on Facebook

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. Lone wolves (individualists, fiscal conservatives) can be frustrating in terms of developing things like government programmes, public healthcare, and carbon fee schemes. I think the reason is because they basically deeply resent free loaders, and this is understandable.

    We need to do more to point out that free loaders are in a minority, and the advantages of public programmes and things like carbon fee and dividend or wind power subsidies outweigh the problems of free loaders. There are also simple mechanisms to minimise free loading like government audit schemes and tests, and team players should embrace these provided they are not malicious.

    Lone wolves need to remember they are often the beneficiaries of numerous public programmes developed by team players, and would not be where they are without these!

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  2. Regarding the "next reckoning capitalism and climate change". I personally feel corporations and free markets have obvious value, but there are downsides as well. The trouble is there's no obvious workable alternative to capitalism, so we either fix capitalism, or our civilisation is in deep trouble.

    The upside of free market capitalism is well enough known. The downside is that corporations act coldly to maximise profit and shareholder value as it's in their charter and thus have little regard for the environment, because the costs are dispersed onto the public (the tragedy of the commons issue). They are sometimes lead by psychopathic out of control egocentric people wanting little more than to amass power and money. But psychopaths are apparently good at running big organisations, so I'm told!

    This has all been traditionally mitigated with a combination of government regulations, taxes, government programmes and access to the courts. The beast has been tamed, more or less. It's worked quite well in the main.

    But something has gone horribly wrong in recent years with all this, with regulation getting a bad name, and the libertarian fanatics winning some of the debate pushing deregulation. The GOP has become very anti tax and anti government regulation, almost fanatically so. It has got even the most well intended socially minded politicians running scared.

    The sheer size of mega corporations like google and facebook gives them huge power. Then there's the power of lobby groups and money in politics, some coming from the fossil fuel lobby and their sympathisers and it all looks like its reached massive proportions.

    It's like the public have been hypnotised, and lead to believe that any constraint over corporations will mean less innovation and / or more expensive products or worse no products at all. The public need to realise none of this needs to follow.

    Regulation doesn't need to reduce innovation and research typically finds regulation that is science and evidence based and related to proper concerns like safety and the environment either has no effect on innovation one way or the other , or actually increases innovation here and here.

    Carbon tax and dividend is a well conceived mechanism to resolve a tragedy of the commons problem that avoids giving governments excessive power. People need to get their head around this.

    People in postions of power also need to be held accountable. It seems like the public are running scared of doing this, which is unfortunate.

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  3. The suggestion that since the behaviour is culturally conditioned, repeating the study with American students or subjects from a society with more inequality and less safety net may show even stronger results, will probably not be borne out. Dutch people are extremely individualistically oriented, and they are famous for free-loading. Share-ware always receives the lowest possible rewards from Dutch users, and people in the Netherlands typically consider littering to be their own business. Though they have the name for individualism, Americans operate far more co-op type endeavours, and will subject themselves to some form of organizing much more readily than will unruly Dutch students for who the concept of a roommate is already an intolerable affront.

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  4. nigelj,

    It can be argued that Lone-Wolf (individualists, fiscal conservatives) are actually Free-Riders of the worst kind.

    In his book "Reasons and Persons", Derek Parfit does an excellent job of arguing that it is morally best for everyone to be Altruistically helpful to others. However, in many competitions, the few who choose to not be altruistically helpful (those Lone-Wolves) benefit from the actions of the Altruists as well as getting more advantage by not participating in the Altruistic actions.

    The Lone-wolves are actually understandably worse than Free-Riders. But they will refuse to accept the arguments clearly proving it, especially if they can win the power to decide what the rules of winning are and who gets rewarded and who gets penalized.

    Right now, harmful political leadership is trying to win the power to make-up rules in their favour by appealing to a diversity of incorrect pursuers of winning (like the greedy and intolerant). Those united groups are comprised of correction resistant people who can fundamentally be expected to be on the Right side of the political spectrum (those resisting change can be helpful, but in this case the harmful resisters of change are clearly acting collectively, and tragically the helpful conservatives struggle to separate from the conservative pack).

    Until the United harmful Right lose that ability to win unjustified immoral power, things will only get worse. Humanity has a tragic habit of waiting too long to disappoint undeserving wealthy and powerful people. Hopefully that will not be the case this time.

    Hopefully it will become common sense that the true measure of merit is "Helpful Altruistic actions to improve awareness and understanding and develop sustainable corrections and improvements for the future of humanity".

    Competition for popularity and profit can clearly distort or corrupt perceptions of worth and status. Correction of what is perceived to be worthy of status will be required, to the detriment of the many Free-Riding Lone-Wolves who have harmfully developed unjustified perceptions of status.

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  5. Lone wolf farmers should get a copy of Montgomern's book, Growing a Revolution.  They would stand out from their fellow farmers with better crops, less inputs and a better bottom line.  More amazing, they would become the darlings of the local greenies.

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  6. Mon Apr 15, Republicans push anti-wind bills in several states as renewables grow increasingly popular

    Link is wrong. It should probably be:

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Thanks for catching this glitch. The correct link has been inserted into the OP.

  7. After giving the "How We Role" study report some additional consideration, I am not convinced of the claim by the researchers that the results of their test raises questions about 'the ability of peer penalties to effectively correct unhelpful behaviour'.

    The authors claim that their observations of behaviours in their game resulted in actions that they determined indicate that “The feuding increased costs for the collective as a whole, which the authors say calls into question how effective unfettered peer punishment is in real life.” The authors offer no 'more effective alternatives for correcting the behaviour of the correction resistant free-riding selfish individuals' (see my comment @4 for an explanation of why the Individuals in the test are also Free-Riders in real life situations (no Individual is actually a Hermit in the Hills).

    The test was not a good representation of a real life situation. But it does expose some things.

    This type of test shows that many socioeconomic-political systems are likely developing a significant number of harmfully selfish individuals who are correction resistant, who resist becoming altruistically helpful.

    It is not surprising that the observed main 'effort to correct' was directed at the Loners (note that the Loners did not appear to attempt to correct the Altruists). Unlike the ones called Free-Riders, the Loners (who are also Free-Riders in any society) had shown no interest in being a helpful part of the group. They only cared about themselves to the detriment of others. At least those referred to as Free-Riders contributed to the group effort and shared the risk of loss. If there were no Loners in a group it seems likely that there would have been corrective actions directed at the Free-riders who contributed a significantly smaller than equitable share.

    And I know that JWRebel @3 is correct that in spite of the Dutch having social safety-net aspects in their society, there are many evaluations of global cultures that identify the Dutch as very significantly independent, even more independent than American culture (though admittedly 'American' is a messy broad diversity of regional cultures that is difficult to make relevant generalizations about, especially statistical generalizations like averages, means and modes).

    Also, the experiment is a 'multi-party Prisoner's Dilemma resulting in an individual vs collective Dilemma'. The lack of interaction before the first round of action is (or should be) a rare situation (and makes the test not a good representation of a real life situation). It sets up an antagonistic starting point for future rounds that also have no opportunity for discussion to occur, just steps of observation and response without Trust, actually damaging to trust. Undeniably, any society will have some people who develop fiercely selfish motivations with a related lack of trust of others because many selfish people understand that they would not trust themselves to 'help others collectively, make a personal sacrifice for a common good' (and they expect Others to be like them, so they don't try to Trust Others).

    Different versions of the experiment would likely produce significantly different results such as:

    • If the participants were allowed to discuss the challenge and their potential actions. The only option offered in some of the 'competitions' was later stage individual attempts to penalize others at a personal cost (no discussion).
    • If the participants were told that the total value of their group of 4 would be compared against all other groups of 4 to determine the 'Best Teams'. This would have dulled any culturally imprinted tendency to compete for individual status rather than collective status.
    • If the participants are told in advance that as they do the steps of the game the other players will have opportunities to justifiably penalize those who have not yet contributed fairly to the communal effort (a one-way only penalizing).

    A major problem with attempts to 'research basic human behaviour' is the difficulty of finding individuals who have not had their thinking significantly influenced by being raised in a competitive selfish motivating rather than cooperative altruism motivating environment (proponents of human behaviour being un-correctable basic nature are incorrect (it is correction resistant, but can be corrected), however the results of competitions for popularity and profit that are not effectively helpfully altruistically (ethically or morally) restrained and limited can make them appear to be Right).

    Even less wealthy societies are rife with the potentially seriously corrupting influences of competition for perceptions of status relative to others, especially the more rapidly developing ones.

    In an Opinion piece in the New York Times, “Progressive Capitalism Is Not an Oxymoron - We can save our broken economic system from itself.”, Joseph E. Stiglitz presents a claim regarding current developed results of capitalism that is related to what I am pointing out, altruistic governance and limits are required to get Good Results from the power of competition for popularity and profit.

    The perceptions of status need to be corrected. The people with a proven history of helping improve awareness and understanding to develop sustainable corrections and improvements for the benefit of the future of humanity should all have the highest status. Anyone with more wealth and power but who can be shown to be less helpful should be effectively corrected to a status matching how helpful they actually are wanting to be (they can be free to decide what status they want to be at, not how they want status to be measured).

    That correction could happen through Effective Corrective Peer Influence among the wealthiest and most powerful, or Effective Corrective Revolution, or it could not happen (which is the worst result for everyone, including for the selfish ones who incorrectly believe they Won Their Way - it is dangerous to allow Selfishness to significantly influence what happens).

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  8. In my comment @7 I understand that the authors of the report qualified their claim about the 'merits of peer-on-peer corrective efforts through penalty' with the term "unfettered". But, of course, the the undeniable cause of the problem is "incorrectly or inadequately fettered" irational harmful behaviour, so it would be understood by altruists that any corrective actions should be "helpfully rationally fettered".

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  9. In addition to nigelj's comment @2 regarding the "The Next Reckoning: Capitalism and Climate Change", Paul Krugman presents related criticism of the right-wing likes of the Heritage Foundation in "Survival of the Wrongest-Evidence has a well-known liberal bias" in the Opinions section of the NYTimes.

    What Krugman bluntly correctly points out is how consistently incorrect the Right-wing have become.

    My own opinion is that the Right-wing populists are appealing to people who have developed harmful incorrect motives to resist changing their minds about things.

    Many harmful unsustainable social and economic beliefs and actions have developed. They clearly need to be corrected. But people who sense that the corrections will result in them losing some of their developed perception of status can be expected to resist being corrected. They may even understand that they are being harmful, but they are powerfully motivated to continue to be harmfully incorrect by desires to maintain developed perceptions of status through preferred beliefs and related harmful actions.

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