Monday, April 27, 2009

A Short History of Group Think

I started looking at the phenomenon of group think today. One of the sparks was a post by my good buddy Ultra Guy on his blog new wineskins. It seemed to me that a salient point in his argument was the decimation of the German Theoretical physics community during the 1920's and early 1930's as the tide of antisemitism drove some of the leading physicists out of Germany.
The term groupthink was coined in the early by William H. Whyte:
Groupthink being a coinage—and, admittedly, a loaded one—a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity—it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity—an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.
Ultimately group think is about defending unexamined assumptions about things. As Galileo discovered with his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Challenging the reigning world view can be hazardous to your life. In 2008 the Church completed the rehabilitation of Galileo Galilei a process begun some 300 years after declaring him a heretic.

In our own era state sponsored and organized group think rose to new levels in Germany and the USSR. The German version, Gleichschaltung was particularly invidious and the name in German calls forth images of a system like a Gyro compass with, repeaters dutifully following the master compass. The Soviet flavor, Lysenkoism, had devastating effects throughout Soviet Society and Science. The essential core of Lysenkoism was the doctrine that acquired traits were inheritable. While the concept was not new to Lysenko, having been epressed by such worthies as Buffon, Lamarck, and giving it a patina of respectability Aristotle.

The current manifestation of group think trumping the scientific method are the conjoined triplets of liberal elitism - The Population Bomb, The Coming Ice Age, and Anthropogenic Global Warming. In each case the operating principle is the same. All research that supports the group position is loudly proclaimed, contrary research is suppressed. In the next phase research funding is filtered through a combination of peer reviewed publications ensuring that reports match the desired outcome. Funding from all sources is then based on previous publication and probability of the research being publishable in a peer reviewed publication. In the last phase, to show even handedness, contrarian research is requested and then heavily redacted to ensure that even the dissenters support the core thesis.

The final nail in the coffin and the result that proves "Mark Twain, was right when he said; "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." The recently released Index of Environmental Indicators, you owe it to yourself to see just how much we know about our environment that isn't so. The 70 page report also shows the progression towards impotence of most attempts to actually do something about a problem degenerate into. That one fact alone should give hope to all the AGW deniers around the globe.

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