Thoughts on Capitalism.

Most teachers of economics only concern themselves with capitalism as the economic model of interest. They support with enthusiasm the form generally known as neo-liberal economics. The features include the worship of what they call the free market. It includes the idea that in the name of freedom there should be minimalist government and deregulation. The privatisation of government assets is the most important way of making progress because the belief that free markets always result in more efficiency in business than state run activities.

Economists consider themselves as scientists, but that is false. They do not use data that they ought to establish, but depend on assumptions and assertions. The idea of markets that reach an equilibrium where supply and demand naturally meet, is claimed to give economic stability, yet the experience of booms and bust belie that prediction. This economic hypothesis is falsified convincingly by recent experience. The orthodox economists did not foresee the global financial crisis of 2008.

The ideology that desires minimum government demands tax cuts so the state is forced to reduce social support. The propaganda that the retention of money by capitalists will mean that they will create jobs so that wealth will trickle down to the working non-capitalists. This has not happened, falsifying that hypothesis. The ability of capital to borrow more capital is a positive feedback mechanism that causes inequality to grow in favour of those who have capital. Mathematically, the most efficient distribution of wealth and income is an egalitarian one.

That de-regulation is the harbinger of freedom is a noxious idea. Time and again de-regulation has resulted in deaths and injury to workers and the decrease in financial ethics. This is another falsification for those who think scientifically.

The idea that privatisation will bring efficiency to industrial and social activities is another hypothesis that is falsified. Many times the state must intervene in some way from failures of this hypothesis.

There is a significant faith in the idea that by businesses acting selfishly all will benefit (the trickle down idiocy again). Time and again the selfish actions harm others. The adulteration of food and the production shortcuts have not benefitted the consumer with safety and product reliability. Where public assets are used for profit, then the assets are over-exploited and everyone loses (the Tragedy of the Commons).

Humans are naturally social beings. By working together for a common outcome, advantages for everyone accrue. Competition as seen as good ignoring that it tends to produce more losers than beneficiaries. The goal of competition is to win by taking over the losers to create a monopoly and have a free rain to exploit that position. Co-operation bypasses the need to create losers. True co-operation benefits all.

Many activities of the state have a social purpose. The direction of these activities on a commercial basis has proven many failures. Rather than put business graduates in charge of these operations, we need people whose careers have been in progressing the social intentions to advance into leadership. It is nonsense to put some fancy economist in charge of education for instance.

Economics Reverse Engineered.

Economics theory in textbooks is conducted on the basis of nice graphs. They are usually not given quantity graduation on the axes. Often a table of economic relations is used which are not based on actual measurements but imagined up to show a theoretical point. The supply ‘curve’ is an example. Often a nice straight line that sometimes intersects the origin of the graph and even occasionally indicates a quantity of supply when the price is zero. The graph shows a relation that the price is determined by a fixed amount plus a factor multiplied by the quantity of supply. Reverse engineering this, the total cost of production is based on the price multiplied by the quantity of production so it becomes the sum of the fixed amount multiplied by the quantity of supply and the production factor multiplied by the square of the quantity of supply. That the cost of supply depends on the square of the supply quantity seems nonsensical.

A different graph is presented in the chapters on marginal costing in competitive markets with a curve that is close to a parabola of average costs price against quantity. When I reverse engineer to get the total cost of production the first part of the downward part of the curve gives a cost curve close to reality with the cost being the sum of a fixed cost and a variable cost multiplied by the quantity of production. But then reverse engineering the rest of the upward trending curve gives a sharply rising variable cost. One graph I have just reverse engineered shows the variable cost rising to about eight times the initial variable cost. As the material resource and services cost part of the variable costs should not change, there is an exaggeration of the labour part of the variable costs. Economic textbooks depend on believing that the productivity of labour declines at scale but surely not by a factor over eight.
The cost structure of producers is something that a scientist could obtain but economists depend on assumptions rather than a scientific approach.

I have a thought that economics is more like a religion than a science.

Production possibility.

Most economic textbooks take on a similar form. They start with an introduction that proposes a “production possibility” advantage to an economy. They make the assumption with two alternatives of production graphed with a convex curve and assume a better result than just specialising in either one. They justify this with an assertion that there are diminishing returns to labour and therefore avoiding specialising stops this.

Image result for production possibility curve

They overlook the efficiency gains of large capital investments when specialising. Capital costs of manufacturing plant usually follow a power law which means the capital costs do not expand at the same rate as the plant capacity expands. In chemical plant the index of the power law varies. For aluminium production plant the power index is 0.80 meaning that to double the production capacity, the plant will cost 75% more. A caustic soda manufacturing plant will cost only 30% more for a plant of twice the capacity. Other chemical plants are in between these extremes. Doubling the plant size does not always mean doubling the labour force.
Do economists exaggerate the diminishing returns to labour? They depend on assumptions rather than collecting data. They never seem to know that in some cases larger material costs can receive a discounted cost. My thought is that they do not have experimental backing for their assertions. And this is only an introductory assertion. If economists are going to pretend to be scientific they had better do more measurements, stop assuming, and test their theories with real data.
When it comes to trade they produce the idea of “comparative advantage” which supports specialisation rather than the production possibility theory contradicting this phoney theory.

Being Precise.

Using the same computer and the same program and the same data there was a different result. How can that be? Was I responsible?
It was the IBM Shell computer which I had just updated the IBM operating system as bugs in the data-base processing had been fixed up. Shell had a big computer with 64K while Caltex and BP had only 32k. That meant that Shell had the responsibility for doing the refinery planning using IBM’s Linear Programming Package which required at least 44k. The oil companies shared the one oil refinery. The package would find the optimum output for the refinery operation given a number of technical constraints.
The constraints could be represented by a polygon in many dimensions in which the answer would reside at an extremity to maximize the profitability of the output. The program would climb up the edges of the imaginary multi-dimensional polygon choosing the best route until it could go no further giving the best result while just staying inside the limiting polygon. A lot of number crunching is involved best described as matrix calculations. When doing divisions in a computer the results are usually imprecise as the results get truncated losing a little precision on the way. The program kept storing up a list of numbers called eta-vectors. These would be used in a matrix re-inversion process to catch up the lost precision. Because the new operating system took up more memory this matrix re-inversion happened at a different stage and a different choice was made in the edge of the polygon to follow and thus end up at a different answer. Nobody in NZ was specialised enough to understand all this but the Shell headquarters in The Hague promptly telexed up the explanation. In the original printout there was an A which was disregarded. It was a message to say that there was a valid alternative solution which we uncovered in the second run of the optimization. Panic over! I have kept the telex as a souvenir. I think this something to remember with computer modeling, precision can be lost.


The growing stress shown in new jobs and its effect on peoples health is something to be concerned about. Some people are expected to work for long hours, under stress, and sometimes in dangerous conditions. Robots are taking over human work but that should not mean that people should be treated as machines. What is needed, is the requirement that work conditions and expectations should be determined by experts in human physiology alone.

Sleep is a human necessity so experts in human physiology should tell us how many hours we should work. This should take into account what kind of work is done. They must know how much sleep we need and when. They should know what harm is done by interrupted sleep and so set rules for having time for sleep. They should be able to determine how often we need to have a food and toilet breaks. I think that they could have an opinion as to the limit to how many days should be worked before a break.

They will know what degree of lighting levels are required for various types of work. As well as the light levels needed for safe human working, they should be able to tell us what temperature range is suitable and how clean the air must be, free from dust and chemicals. They must have a view on what weight lifting limits for people should be specified and how much physical work would make up a full day.

Some modern jobs like working at a computer need considering the danger of RSI and the need to be mobile, away from the computer from time to time as we know that sitting un-moving is bad for us. Physiologists should be the arbiters of such conditions. Work that requires a high level of concentration like pilots, traffic controllers, and drivers can need more frequent breaks and spells to limit concentrating work. It is physiologists that should determine that. The science of human physiology should be the arbiter of work conditions and hours.

Work at night when the body is at its lowest should be managed according to what the physiologists determine is reasonable. They should decide how changing shifts should consider human needs. While they are about making work rules, perhaps they should specify at what stage people performing different types of work should retire. Could they decide when people should stop work for their health?
Am I alone in my thoughts?

An Energy Option.

There is a great opportunity for the resurrection of an old technology. This solution proposes to use wood (From timber yard waste, slash, forestry discards, & coppiced wood) for pyrolysis, producing organic products and charcoal. The material is placed in a kiln and heated to maintain a pyrolysis process that produces chemical vapours and leaves charcoal residue. Export logs could be squared up which will make transport more efficient and provide more input. The charcoal can be used as an energy source, substituting for coal as well as other uses for charcoal. There is a large amount of material left behind from forestry operations that decays and puts back carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
The advantages of this technology are:
1. Requires no new technology.
2. Uses an existing resource.
3. Makes good use of waste, gaining energy from the decay into carbon dioxide.
4. Provides a local and distributed solution which benefits remote communities.
5. Does not depend on a fluctuating supply. (Eg solar & tidal supply sources).
6. Human scaled.
7. Eliminates impossible demands for good agricultural land (eg. Crop biomass for fuels.).
8. Provides for potential export return gains.
9. The system can be implemented in small steps, reducing the cost risk of unpredicted problems.
10. Provides a diversity of uses that give flexibility of options. (Eg: Smokeless domestic fuel, light vehicle fuel alternative, coal substitution for smelting, soil conditioner, electricity generation options.)

This can be implemented in a staged process. Phase 1: Construction of small pyrolysis kilns and production of charcoal.
Phase 2: Add distillation of exhaust gases to gain organic by-products.
Phase 3: Gain export advantages in wood supply, by squaring up export logs.
Phase 4: Gasify charcoal and implement small combined cycle turbine power units for local hot water and electricity.
Phase 5: Implement direct fuel cell units to produce electricity directly.

Initial implementation should take place in existing forestry areas where there is existing waste wood supply and practical experience. Then, develop the market. As the systems are developed, expand to communities where there can be sufficient wood supply and coppicing areas implemented. As markets gain confidence in the products, there is the option for further expansion to take place.

Information Property.

The internet giants have found ways to get wealthy from internet users. They extract information about us from our use of the internet and monetise it by exploiting what they call big data to select what information and advertising is fed back to us. It is used to manipulate our opinions. My thought for the day is that we are entitled to take back ownership of our own information.

In most societies we have a right to have property and have those rights to be protected. Our information should be respected as our exclusive private property. It is property that has a special quality in that it can be shared without loss. But our property sharing it should up to us. It is reasonable for the state which should be operating in our collective interest to have a right to have a share of our information. It needs some of that for instance to register births, deaths, and marriages and to provide a passport to infer our protection in foreign states. In the interests of security, the state endeavours to protect our information as it should.

When we go to a medical doctor, she may gather information about our self that we did not know. That information about us should be our property still. That doctor should not be able to provide that information property to other bodies without our consent. The same must apply to any of our information collected by those we have any transaction with and share information with. It is perfectly reasonable for a business with whom we have a transaction with, to receive some of our information such as where to deliver to in the case of a purchase. But in having our personal property that business should have an obligation to protect our information. It should not be able to sell our information or provide it without our consent. We should have the right to be paid for the provision of our information property to any entity that just happens to want it.

I have made a habit of demanding a payment for providing my opinions to survey approaches. I haven’t ever got any agreement to be paid. Survey requests come to end very quick. Back in June 1988 I went to an auction of the assets of a bankrupted firm that I had some dealings with. When their mailing list was put up for bids, I disputed the right of my information to be sold. It was my property and I had not given any agreement for the sale of my property. The final bid of $2000 may have been affected by my interruption. At least that information was not used to market to me.

Our property right to own all our information should be recognised in law and inadvertent collectors of our information should not be able to exploit our information. Sharing of our information property should be up to us. If our information has value then it must be our right to have recompense.

Big Bad Bombs.

The first idea of a big bomb appeared in a novel written by a NZ ex-prime minister, Julius Vogel. His novel “Anno Domini” or “Woman’s Destiny.” published in 1889 is a novel that makes many extraordinary predictions about the future including a “means of unleashing a cataclysmic explosion.” Vogel predicted: the internet, jet aircraft, women PMs, etc

H G Wells in his novel “The World Set Free.” written in 1913 and published in 1914 was based on a prediction of nuclear weapons of a more destructive and uncontrollable sort than the world has yet seen. Wells’s “atomic bombs” have no more force than ordinary high explosive. They consist of “lumps of pure Carolinum” that induce “a blazing continual explosion” whose half-life is seventeen days, so that it is “never entirely exhausted,” so that “to this day the battle-fields and bomb fields of that frantic time in human history are sprinkled with radiant matter, and so centres of inconvenient rays.” The novel is dedicated “To Frederick Soddy’s Interpretation of Radium,” a volume published in 1909. Soddy was a chemist assistant to Rutherford in Canada when Rutherford developed his theory of transmutation that got him a Nobel Prize. Soddy got a Nobel Prize for his work on isotopes. Soddy is remembered for some books on economics which makes him an economist who got a real Nobel Prize.

Most chemical explosives are some form of chemical nitrates. Sodium or potassium nitrates can be used to supply the oxygen source in gunpowder. There is ammonium-nitrate, nitrocellulose, nitroglycerine, trinitrotoluene (TNT), cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX), pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), and so on. These materials explode at different rates. RDX has an velocity of exploding of 8,750 m/s while ammonium-nitrate has a velocity of only 5,270 m/s.

The Monroe effect which is created by concave spaces in the explosive material is an important factor in the use of explosives for demolitions as the explosive force becomes focussed. It is the reason that explosives can puncture amour plate.

The biggest chemical explosion ever was at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel resulting in a fire which further caused an explosion rated at about 2.9 kt of TNT. The Richmond area of the city was destroyed killing 2000 people.

Wells’s novel may even have influenced the development of nuclear weapons, as the physicist Leó Szilárd read the book in 1932, the same year the neutron was discovered by Chadwick who was a co-worker of Rutherford (Rutherford predicted the existence of the neutron) and got a Nobel Prize also.

Szilard was a Hungarian refuge helped by Rutherford’s Academic Assistance Council which was set to find jobs for Jews fleeing Europe. In London, where Southampton Row passes Russell Square, across from the British Museum in Bloomsbury, Leo Szilard waited irritably one gray Depression morning for the stoplight to change. A trace of rain had fallen during the night; Tuesday, September 12th, 1933, dawned cool, humid and dull. Drizzling rain would begin again in early afternoon. He often walked to think. In any case another destination intervened. The stoplight changed to green. Szilard stepped off the curb. As he crossed the street, time cracked open before him and he saw a way to the future, death into the world and all our woes, the shape of things to come. Szilárd conceived the idea of neutron chain reaction. An atom fissioned by neutron particles might break apart producing even more neutrons. He filed for patents on it in 1934. Szilard read an article in The Times summarizing a speech given by Lord Rutherford in which Rutherford rejected the feasibility of using atomic energy for practical purposes. The speech remarked specifically on the recent 1932 work of his students, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, in “splitting” the lithium atom into alpha particles, by bombardment with protons from a particle accelerator they had constructed.

Rutherford went on to say:“We might in these processes obtain very much more energy than the proton supplied, but on the average we could not expect to obtain energy in this way. It was a very poor and inefficient way of producing energy, and anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine. But the subject was scientifically interesting because it gave insight into the atoms.”

Szilard went to see Rutherford. It is recorded that Rutherford “threw him out” although this probably means that Rutherford did not support his idea. Rutherford is quoted as saying “Fortunately at the present time we had not found out a method of so dealing with these forces, and personally I am very hopeful we should not discover it until man was living at peace with his neighbour.”.

In the beginning of 1939, Niels Bohr brought news to New York of the discovery of nuclear fission where neutron impacts produced more neutrons in Germany by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, and its theoretical explanation by Lise Meitner, and Otto Frisch. When Szilard found out about it on a visit to Eugene Wigner at Princeton University, he immediately realized that uranium might be the element capable of sustaining a chain reaction.

Szilard drafted a confidential letter to the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, explaining the possibility of nuclear weapons, warning of the German nuclear weapon project, and encouraging the development of a program that could result in their creation. With the help of Wigner and Edward Teller, he approached his old friend and collaborator Einstein in August 1939, and convinced Einstein to sign the letter, lending his fame to the proposal. That famous letter initiated the Manhattan Project which developed two types of atomic bombs.

Enrico Fermi who was responsible for the first atomic pile determined that a fissioning uranium atom produced 1.73 neutrons on average. Because the central nucleus is a very small proportion of an atom’s space, neutrons can easily escape any action in small volumes of uranium. Rutherford described the nucleus as like a fly in the cathedral (St Paul’s in London) with the electrons taking up the most of the space. A volume that where the production of neutrons balances the neutrons initiating fission plus the neutrons escaping is called a critical mass.

This led to one type of bomb in which two sub-critical shapes of uranium are shot together to form a critical mass to explode. 64kg of enriched uranium was used. A cylinder of uranium is shot down to a set of hollow uranium cylinders to create a cylinder of solid uranium above the critical mass. In a small shape neutrons could escape before hitting enough uranium nuclei to maintain fission but when the two parts come together more neutrons can expand the fission. This became the design of the “little boy” nuclear weapon used on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. The energy released was about equivalent to 13 Kilo tons of TNT through the conversion of about 0.6 grams of matter. Since this idea was found many new devices have been constructed.
I think that these weapons are so terrible that it is time to stop and dismantle them and have a nuclear free world. Having these weapons of mass destruction is a sign of a psychopathic state.

Science Accountabilty.

Science is not handled well by politicians. It is threatened by ignoramuses. Here are some comments from my brother (Dr R L Bieleski) who became a Director of the Horticulture Division of NZ’s DSIR.

“The problem with the project approach is that it assumes and asks for success, damping down the search for new ideas. For about my last 4 years I was in the project-oriented world and found it stifling. Sure I could put down a successful project where I could deliver what I promised, but where was the place for insights? The project proposal asks for description of the process, not the target. Put down “I want to understand better how watercore in apples occurs” and you don’t get funded. Describe in detail the experiments you plan, when you don’t know really what ones you need until you have stepped down the path, you might have a show. Perhaps the biggest indictment of the New Zealand system lies in our neighbour. From their birth through to 1990, DSIR and CSIRO travelled a closely parallel path. They were born out of the same reviewers at the same time, and there was steady exchange of information and joint projects. Australia, however, on looking at what had happened thought it could do better by keeping and developing CSIRO.

What has got up my nose has been the appalling self-satisfaction of (Minister of Science) Williamson’s justification in stating that DSIR lacked any accountability. That was what is politely known as a “data-free observation”: I would call it a lie, because he presented no evidence whatever, and hadn’t bothered to look at what was in front of him. Different Divisions did their accounting in different ways, but there was always a clear statement as to what each scientist was supposed to be directing efforts at and what had been achieved, whether it was breeding a new kiwifruit or finding out why orange roughy upset people’s stomachs. If you didn’t do what you were expected to do, you got no promotion up the salary scale with its 8 or 10 steps. In my Division, each year each scientist was expected to give a project-based synopsis, in readable form, of what he/she had done and achieved, and what was planned for the coming year. This “annual research report” of maybe 200 pages, 500 projects was printed up (no fancy pictures, just Xeroxed typescript) and made available to whoever wanted it – all other Divisions, industry groups etc.

For example I believe a copy was sent to the Minister of Science. Similarly the organisation itself placed clear guidelines as to who should be doing what. My Division was Horticulture and Processing – and that’s what we worked on, not ecology of Rangitoto or geology of Waiheke. There were 25 Divisions in all, clearly sectoring up our national scientific endeavour. In that respect we were not like the University. A question: are we better managing science in having a generalised Plant and Food Institute as we do now, or having clearly defined Entomology, Plant Diseases, Horticulture, Arable Crops, Food Processing, Plant Physiology, Wheat Research, and Plant Chemistry Divisions – which is what the march of progress has given us, the amalgamation of those clearly defined objective-based groups of DSIR into an amorphous body where the project rules – but is hidden deeply from outside sight.

A feature of the old DSIR was the very lean management structure. There was one Director General for the lot, helped by 3 Assistant Directors General who were responsible for about 8 of the Divisions. Each Division had a Director who was expected to be the sole science administrator; though in general practice there was an informal substructure of a couple of assistant directors (no capitals, the positions were informal and solely at the whim of the Director) who spent about 50% of their time on administrative stuff, and say 5 section heads (again informal) who spent about 20% of the time administering their subgroup of about 7-8 scientists. What it boils down to is that about 7.5% of the science horsepower was devoted to science management, 92.5% to active research. I do not know the management structure of Plant and Food Research Institute, the one I am closest to, but I do know it is a hell of a lot top-heavier, partly because of the management horsepower required for all those projects where EACH has to be answered for to MoRST. I gather it is about 20%. Leave that aside: the project making process takes each scientist away from the bench for a significant part of their time. On the basis of what I saw before I retired, it would be minimum of 15% per scientist. Adding them, my best guess is that we have a situation where about 65% of the scientist horsepower is on active research (and I leave out the time spent on outlining failed projects which is likely to reduce output by another 10%, as your [this blogger] article author notes!). Even if having scientists forced to answer to a defined project makes them more efficient (which I doubt, if you are looking for creative science), they have to be made close to 50% more efficient to break even compared with the old system.

There’s one more thing that makes the formula even ore scary. In the old DSIR, some technicians (usually without any degree) carried out some independent research. The system allowed this: it was all about productivity. In my Division I can think of about 5 out of 65 technicians who effectively were largely doing independent research (in association with a lead scientist) justifying their names on research papers and even lead naming. There would have been several who spent part of their time on independent projects. At a guess I’d put this at 7 scientist-equivalents in my Division, meaning my part of the bad old DSIR could be said to be working at 109%. Other Divisions were pretty much the same: for example the medical airstream humidifier that F&P Medical have as their mainstream product was dreamed up and brought to a working model by AIDD technicians. So much for non-accountability. This is something that doesn’t fit into the project system at all. Research proposals from someone without any degree? Dream on.

One of the things never admitted by the Institutists is that many of their successes had their roots firmly in the “bad, unfocussed DSIR”. The biggest money spinners for Plant and Food have been royalties from the kiwifruit and apple breeding. Those programs were started in my Division under my management. We sourced breeding material of apples from the Kurdistan area before it became impractical (through the rise of Al Qaeda) and kiwifruit breeding material from China before they realised that their genetic resources were precious. The big thing is that when we started our kiwifruit breeding, it was opposed by most of the industry because what they had was “just fine” We had to bully and wheedle to get any industry funding at all. Also we had to carry out the process so we were able to keep PVR rights (which meant basically keeping everything in our own hands, not offering it out for evaluation). So much for research always needing to be determined by the end user. We could see it would be needed 15-25 years down the track, and what sort of product. Growers concerned with next year just didn’t have the minds or leisure to think about what would be required that far ahead. DSIR’s history is replete with other examples. That was our job – and we did it. In the article you sent me, there is one paragraph that I think totally sums up the organisation I knew:

“As well as providing returns of around 30% on specified long-term tasks such as the solution of agricultural problems, new ideas could be explored and often were encouraged and helped to fruition. There was no reason other than an extreme ideology to break up the DSIR and organise science into competing business units (beholden to a centralised monolithic funding system), which are unsuitable for the scientific endeavour. Science and business are two very different arenas with different criteria and requirements. In each the best result comes from leaving decisions to the practitioners who know their subject. “

The new system is highly competitive, both between scientists and Institutes, as one’s future depends on getting funded. This damps down a lot on research efforts crossing boundaries, which is very often where genuinely new advances come from particularly those that come out of a chance “meeting of different cultures”.

What I can tell you is that scientists of my generation, up to say 20 years younger, all say “I had the best of it: I was able to do real science then. I had a career; I knew where I was going”. Today’s poor buggers don’t know from one year to the next whether they will still have a job, or will be made redundant, and a thing I find sad is how many of the fine young scientists I had 25 years ago have been spat out by the system to find jobs elsewhere. It’s a terrible loss of intellectual capital that is down to a fact-free decision made by politicians with limited intelligence, zero understanding, and no wish to look before they leap.” RLB.

Your Blogger notes that more management and managers has not increased the effectiveness of scientific endeavor. The trouble is that politicians who want to control science do not understand science so think interfering will help. In the USA politicians find they cannot understand science so assume it is wrong.

Where is Truth?

Philosophers are interested in what we know as real, and how we know and what we believe we know. Epistemology is what philosophers call the theory of knowledge. Bertrand Russel is well known in this area of thought. Philosophers ask: What is knowledge? How is knowledge acquired? What do people know? How do we know what we know?

But how do we un-know particulars we thought we knew, when new evidence comes available that completely undermines what we thought was true? There is the famous quote of economist John Maynard Keynes “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir? ”. It is a shame that more economists do not revise their work in light of reality.

Psychologists have a term “cognitive dissonance “ for the situation where people carry two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

In science, we have the concepts of epicycles, aether, ectoplasm, electric fluids, phlogiston, and caloric which have been discarded as observations and experiments have shown them to be false concepts. The plate movement hypothesis of Alfred Wegener took a while for geologists to accept, but now it is accepted as a valid theory with masses of supporting evidence. Over the last millennia, there have been scores of cults that have prepared for their predicted apocalyptic end of the world, only to be disappointed. With the dogmatic views held, usually propagated by some charismatic leader, the failure of the belief does not change any views but the beliefs are often even more strongly held. Why is that? As another philosopher, Tertullian said: ”The greater the absurdity, the stronger his belief in it.”

You might like to take a moment to think of a time and a case when you held a strong view that you had to discard as wrong when you were faced with contradictory information. How did you feel about the fact that you have were deluded or had been deceived? There is a term “buyers remorse” for the feelings you get when you realise that a purchase you made was a big mistake.

I have an example from my own experience. With the destruction of the World Trade towers in September 2001, I accepted the official conspiracy theory that it was caused by Muslim fanatical suicide pilots flying into the towers under the direction someone called Osama bin Laden. The identification of Bin Laden so soon after the event suggests that the fingering of him was part of a plan. However, when I viewed a film of the collapse of the third building, WTC7, I could not help but realise that it was professionally demolished, not a failure caused by fire. Then a look at the films of the two other towers made me realise that they too could not have failed through the effects of burning jet fuel. My new disbelief consolidated when faced with new evidence, for instance the work of a Danish scientist who has detected trace of explosive devices in the rubble.

Now even ex-Prime Minister John Key talked about “explosive devices”. This new information made the official conspiracy about Muslim suicide pilots suspect but not actually falsified. Later I learned of the arrest of five Mossad agents who were spotted at the New York Liberty Park cheering as they documented the destruction of the World Trade towers. This brought a new realisation that there was more to this destruction than the official story. With Israeli agents on hand on a documentation assignment, either they knew of this conspiracy and did not alert the US authorities, or they were actually part of the real conspiracy.

When people do not want to accept new information that is contrary to their previous views, they can go into a state of denial. According to Sigmund Freud, denial is a defence mechanism enabling the person to reject uncomfortable facts. The new fact can be denied or it can be minimised in some way to avoid its significance. People whose power depends on a strongly well held incorrect view resort to emphatic denials which becomes a habit, hence DAS (denial addition syndrome). This is particularly common where the wrongly held view is a more comfortable one. This results in what is called the Panglossian/Casandra feud where unpleasant facts, even if true, are rejected just because there is a desire to remain in a deluded happy positive frame of mind.

Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles who has identified a number of rules for the propagation of disinformation in an article entitled “Everything Is A Lie: The Deliberate Intent To Deceive People Is At An All Time High”. He says “From pollution to politics, the era of deception and duplicity has reached new heights and hijacked almost every form of media in the world. In the last frontiers for truth such as the internet, disinformation operations are in full swing to discredit and destroy any semblance of authentic and factual information available to the public. How many more lies will people around the world accept as truth? Some say a global awakening is taking place, but at what cost? Will it take the destruction of most of the earth and its resources before people are enlightened? The escalating media and political reports are so far fetched, cunning, and so beyond reality, it’s as if each is trying to top the other with one sinister plot after the next. To demonstrate the outright lies by national governments and the media.”
We have heard of “lies, dammed lies, and statistics”, well to that we can add “advertising, public relations, and propaganda”. (and economics) In Israel classes are being held to train people to alter Wikipedia content to reflect the Zionist point of view.
Torres has identified twenty five rules for producing disinformation. Here are some of them.1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Avoid any unpalatable ideas.
2. Become incredulous and indignant. This “how dare you” gambit is used to prevent the disclosure of unpleasant ideas by shutting down discussion.
3. Create rumour mongers. Diverts attention from reality by undermining it, as just a rumour.
4. Use a straw man to divert attention from the real issues..
5. Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule. Attack the messenger, not their message.
6. Hit and Run. This avoids having to hear repudiations.
7. Question motives. Diverts attention from the real issues.
8. Invoke authority. This is a bluff that confines the issue to one favoured expert.
9. Play Dumb. It s hard to get somebody stupid to change their prejudices.
10. Associate opponent charges with old news. But isn’t it always new information that requires a paradigm to enter into consideration.
Torres has several more rules for producing dis-information and he has come up with 8 traits of people who specialise in disinformation. It is very common.
Children who do “Media Studies” learn to be cynical about advertising claims, but this does not provide a skill in mind changing when new information discredits old entrenched ideas.
Can you resist all the deceptions you are bombarded with and take on a new truth?
The word Propaganda comes from the “Congregation for Propagating the Faith” founded by the Catholic Church in 1622. Its activity was aimed at “propagating” the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries. From the 1790s, the term began being used also for propaganda in secular activities. The term began taking a pejorative connotation in the mid-19th century, when it was used in the political sphere. This is also shown in a 1961 dictionary where it had “Organised method and system of propagating or disseminating principles and doctrines.” but a more recent 1998 dictionary had “The organised spreading of doctrine, true or false information, opinions etc.”.
Edward Louis Bernays (1891 – 1995) is the author of a book “Propaganda.” published in 1928. He was an Austrian-American who was a nephew of Sigmund Freud. He combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle. He saw that the use of the word Propaganda had acquired some negative connotations so invented the words Public Relations as an alternative. He is referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations”. Another meaning for PR is “propaganda repetition”. The term ‘public relations’ is being replaced by ‘corporate communications’.
Gustave Le Bon (1841 – 1931) was a French social psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, inventor, and amateur physicist. He is best known for his 1895 work “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”. His writings incorporate theories of national traits, racial superiority, herd behaviour and particularly crowd psychology.

Bernays, working for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War I with the Committee on Public Information, was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”. Following the war, he was invited by Woodrow Wilson to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. This thinking was heavily shared and influenced by Walter Lippmann, one of the most prominent American political columnists at the time. Bernays and Lippmann sat together on the U.S. Committee on Public Information, and Bernays quotes Lippmann extensively in his seminal work “Propaganda”. In 1919, he opened an office as Public Relations Counsellor in New York. He held the first Public Relations course at New York University in 1923, publishing the first groundbreaking book on public relations entitled Crystallizing Public Opinion that same year.

Bernays refined and popularized the use of the press release. He proved his ability in the manipulation of public opinion with his first exercise for the tobacco industry. He arranged for the staging of the 1929 Easter parade in New York City, to show models which he organised holding lit Lucky Strike cigarettes, or “Torches of Freedom”. After the historic public event, women started lighting up more than ever before. It was through him that women’s smoking habits started to become socially acceptable. Bernays created this event as news, which it was not. Bernays convinced industries that the news, not advertising, was the best medium to carry their message to an unsuspecting public. Now TV is saturated with “informercials”.

One of Bernays’s favourite techniques for manipulating public opinion was the indirect use of “third party authorities” to plead his clients’ causes. “If you can influence the leaders, either with or without their conscious cooperation, you automatically influence the group which they sway.” he said. In order to promote sales of bacon, for example, he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat heavy breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as an ideal heavy breakfast and superior for health to the then traditional breakfast of tea (or coffee) and toast.

Hitler and Goebbels read avidly Bernays and applied his doctrine very successfully. Goebbels was using Bernays’ book “Crystallizing Public Opinion” as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked the journalist who reported this. Obviously the attack on the Jews of Germany was no emotional outburst of the Nazis, but a deliberate, planned campaign. Adolf Hitler is said to be source of the quote “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

Bernays’s most extreme political propaganda activities were said to be conducted on behalf of the multinational corporation United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita Brands International) and the U.S. government to facilitate the successful overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Bernays’s propaganda (documented in the BBC documentary, “The Century of the Self”), branding Arbenz as communist, was published in major U.S. media. According to a book review by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of Larry Tye’s biography of Bernays, “The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & The Birth of PR”, “the term ‘banana republic’ actually originated in reference to United Fruit’s domination of corrupt governments in Guatemala and other Central American countries.” There was not even an embassy for the USSR in Guatemala but the fear of Russia and the “reds” became a well orchestrated PR campaign and swallowed completely by the American public and continues today.

Operation Mockingbird was a secret campaign by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to influence media. Begun in the 1950s, it was initially organized by Cord Meyer and Allen W. Dulles, it was later led by Frank Wisner after Dulles became the head of the CIA. The organization recruited leading American journalists into a network to help present the CIA’s views, and funded some student and cultural organizations, and magazines as fronts. As it developed, it also worked to influence foreign media and political campaigns, in addition to activities by other operating units of the CIA.

If one is awake, it must be apparent that there has been a persistent campaign to get people to believe, first that Iraq was making an atomic bomb. Remember the face of Colin Powell with all the sincerity he could muster, that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction.” An attack based on these lies has not found any trace of such weapons in Iraq while reeking much destruction and deaths of Iraqis.

Ever since last century (1992), Israel has been “warning” us that Iran has been making an atomic bomb. If you make a carful study of the statements made you can see that we have been given a shortening time to when their bomb would be ready. And this is from a country that has 180 atomic bombs (standard deviation of this estimate: 50 bombs) and started with stolen uranium (google search PLUMBAT). Israel is not accommodating to end the atomic weapons in the hands of psychopaths.

The statements made by a girl, Nayirah before a Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990 hearing that she had seen Kuwait babies in incubators being thrown out. She said “I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital with twelve other women who wanted to help as well. I was the youngest volunteer. The other women were from twenty to thirty years old. While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying.” She had a good cry.

In 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah’s last name was al-Sabah. and that she was the daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. It was revealed that her testimony was organized as part of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait public relations campaign which was run by Hill & Knowlton for the Kuwaiti government. Following this, al-Sabah’s testimony has come to be regarded as a classic example of modern wartime propaganda. The girl was coached by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. Hill & Knowlton is estimated to have been given as much as $12 million by the Kuwaitis for their public relations campaign.

There is an underground media which presents a different view of political activity. Some of these people working in this environment do magnificent investigative work counteracting the spin provided by the mainstream media. The universal use of filming devices, cameras and cell phone have provided proof of alternative news. Thorough work has often exposed doctored photos. But one of the amazing exposures from such detailed work is the film seen over the internet of the Prime Minister of Australia giving a speech (on March the 18th 2003) giving a speech on the weapons of mass destruction etc. in Iraq and simultaneously showing the exactly the same speech being given by the Prime Minister of Canada (on March 20th 2003) to their respective houses of Parliament. It must have taken much detailed work to uncover this “coincidence”. We are left to wonder where this PR spin has come from.

A recent and more egregious example of the way the public is “spun” comes from the once respected BBC and their journalist Ian Pannel. In August 2013 a news item was played coming from the war in Syria. A doctor was interviewed while working on some victims. She says it was “some form of napalm”. In September 2013 the BBC broadcast the same clip, but the reference to napalm had been changed to “chemical weapons”. We must be grateful that there was an observant person who spotted it. The BBC has yet to explain who and how the clip was doctored.
I must check my thinking!