I think a lot about assertions, things that people assert as true, very often without acknowledging their personal bias. To be fair, most of us are so immersed in our ideologies that we’re not aware of how they are compelling us toward bias.

The title of this post refers to some of the kinds of assertions I hear, by which someone states something as a fact:

  • The way things are — some assertion about fact, whether it has to do with science, economics, politics, or some other sphere. One of my favorite manifestations is when someone begins an utterance with the stark word “Fact,” followed by a colon to emphasize the factiness of what follows, then followed by an unquestioned assertion.
  • The way things were — some statement about history or the past. For example, such and such Egyptian dynasty ruled in such and such time period, or some assertion about why humans came down from the trees to live on the savanna.
  • What is true — This is really akin to the other two kinds of assertions I’m pointing to, but maybe in this case I’m thinking about an assertion that goes beyond a mere statement of some fact. Some examples might be that God exists or that he doesn’t, or that evolution is an incontrovertible fact.

An assertion might be well supported, but what I’m trying to spotlight here is the common practice of making an assertion without acknowledging the background and context surrounding the assertion and the person making it. One result is that people get into fierce arguments even though they aren’t really arguing about the same thing.

Here are some of the kinds of influences that one might make clear to provide context to an assertion:

  • The lines of evidence behind the assertion — Is the assertion based on scientific or scholarly research? Sometimes a speaker will make an assertion, basing his or her statement on the consensus within a profession or academic field. (Academic or scientific consensus doesn’t always mean the same thing as the everyday understanding of what constitutes a consensus.) One of the problems here is that there may actually be a minority that disputes the consensus view. There might be a legitimate critique that isn’t getting acknowledged when the speaker makes the assertion.
  • Assumptions — Many assertions are based in part on ideas or constructs that are taken for granted. As with lines of evidence, there might be a legitimate minority critique of a given assumption. One example would be dating a past event based on the conventional chronologies hypothesized by historians and archaeologists.
  • Definition of terms — Often people get into arguments without establishing and agreeing on the meaning of the point they are discussing. For example, people argue about whether evolution is true without coming to a prior understanding of what they mean by evolution.
  • The ideological leanings of the speaker — For someone who wants to evaluate an assertion, it could be useful to know something about the speaker’s ideological convictions. Is the speaker a theist? An atheist? A free-market fundamentalist? An eco-socialist? One problem here is that many people don’t like to admit that they subscribe to an ideology or aren’t even aware of it.
  • The speaker’s authority for making the assertion — When evaluating an assertion, it can be useful to know the speaker’s credentials.
  • The speaker’s underlying agenda — As with ideology, many speakers don’t like to own up to their agendas, which are often political or ideologically-driven.

As is often the case with this writing project, my purpose here is to set out some basic ideas with the intention of coming back later to revise and add ideas and examples.

ARB — 3 Oct. 2013

I recently wrote a piece for Industry Market Trends about how U.S. manufacturing could be affected by the rising U.S. dollar — see “Rising U.S. Dollar Could Put a Damper on Manufacturing Exports.”

In my original story, I included a brief primer on what is meant by a “strong” or “weak” currency. My editor didn’t think our readers needed to know about that, but I found it hard to track down a coherent explanation of this, so I just wanted to publish here some very basic information about a topic that I found confusing. Here’s what I originally wrote:

On the face of it, one might think a “strong dollar” is a positive thing. Strength is good, right? Higher value is good, right? But that’s not necessarily the case in the world of foreign exchange. When we talk about the rising dollar, we mean that it is rising in value, or getting stronger, against other currencies.

For example, as of this writing, one U.S. dollar (USD) buys about 98 Japanese yen (JPY). In 2011, one USD was worth about 76 JPY. The dollar now buys more JPY than it did in 2011, so we would say it is stronger. However, ten years ago, the dollar was at about 110 JPY, so you could say that long-term the USD is weak against the yen.

The U.S. dollar is also measured by the U.S. Dollar Index (USDX), which is a “basket” of foreign currencies, including the Euro (EUR), the JPY, the British pound sterling (GBP), the Canadian dollar (CAD), the Swedish krona (SEK) and the Swiss franc (CHF). As of this writing, the USDX is between 81 and 82. Ten years ago, it was around 104, which means that long-term the dollar is weaker. However, in 2011, the USDX stood at around 70, so that the more recent trend is a rising dollar.

The IMT article goes on to explain how a rising dollar can affect manufacturing by making exports from the U.S. more expensive in other countries.

— ARB, 30 July 2013

A very useful presentation on the world energy situation and its connection to economic activity. By Gail Tverberg, a researcher and actuary. Veers unnecessarily into darwinist ideology, but only briefly.

Our Finite World

A friend asked me to put together a presentation on our energy predicament. I am not certain all of the charts in this post will go into it, but I thought others might be interested in a not-so-difficult version of the story of the energy predicament we are reaching.

My friend also asked what characteristics a new fuel would need to have to solve our energy predicament. Because of this, I have included a section at the end on this subject, rather than the traditional, “How do we respond?” section. Given the timing involved, and the combination of limits we are reaching, it is not clear that a fuel suitable for mitigation is really feasible, however.


Energy makes the world go around

Energy literally makes the world turn on its axis and rotate around the sun.

Energy is what allows us to transform a set of raw materials…

View original post 2,724 more words

I’ve discussed this question before over on ThomasNet Green & Clean — see my piece “The Climate Change Controversy — What’s It Really About?

However, I’m meditating on a somewhat different way to articulate it. I should say that I don’t think this controversy is essentially about science. I’m not persuaded by ill-informed or politically motivated assertions, but I don’t use terms like “hoax,” “anti-science,” “pseudo-science,” or “denialism” in connection with the argument.

My current thinking is the following:

The climate change controversy is about a high-stakes struggle between science in the service of eco-socialism and misinformation in the service of free-market fundamentalism.

I’m engaged in an ongoing development of my thinking on this topic and will no doubt circle back to it. But I just wanted to pin down that idea.

ARB — 2 Nov. 2012

Here’s a possible classification of extremists:

1. True Believers — People whose extremism arises from a sincere belief in the extreme ideology being promoted.

2. Needle-Pushers — Cynical practicers of realpolitik who adopt the extreme position hoping to counteract extremists on the opposing side and “move the needle” toward their own position, getting partisans in power or policies enacted that are more desirable from their point of view.

3. Knee-Jerkers — Followers who are led to back an extremist position because that position’s arguments speak to their own prejudices or harmonizes with their cultural background.

AB — 2 December 2011

I thought this was an interesting and useful infographic highlighting the growing U.S. solar manufacturing business. Right now, it shows a $5.6 billion industry that imports $3.75 billion, for a $1.9 billion trade surplus.

I wrote something about the growth of the solar industry recently for ThomasNet Green & Clean — see “How Will U.S. Army Energy Initiatives Affect Expansion of Solar Energy?

Infographic shows US solar industry trade surplus

AB — 15 September 2011


What I keep hearing is that businesses don’t want to expand, take risks, or hire new people because they don’t know what direction the economy’s going to go. Supposedly this fear turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy, because most businesses are thinking the same way and nobody’s willing to get moving to generate more business in the economy.

I have to think that this represents an opportunity for businesses large and small that are willing to get off their butts and start doing something. While the competition is busy wringing their hands, you can be out gaining market share.

While the competition is skimping on their marketing budget, you can expand yours and gain more visibility in the marketplace.

While the competition is afraid to take risks and try new things, you can invest in some product development and market testing to get a new product out on the market at a discount rate.

Since the competition is afraid to hire new employees, you are in a position to hire someone good at a reasonable rate. What about taking on a part-timer? A paid intern? A promising young person with little hard experience? A bright, creative, diligent worker who only has a high-school degree? An older person who might appear “over-qualified” on paper but would love to have a great job working for you?

AB — 2 September 2011