Parsing the Scott Adams – Sam Harris Podcast for Persuasion, Part 7

Read my intro here and some background on belief structures here.

The podcast itself is called “Triggered!

Previous sections: Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6. You might notice some techniques I pointed out in those posts that I don’t point out below. That’s deliberate.

My notes in blue.

Note that there may be a difference between my own opinion and my parsing of what the persuasion is communicating.

And thank @MattMcCombs17, @Subutai1175, and @theTinkerBelles for this transcription!


Adams: My understanding is he’s an all-energy guy. [ Big picture reframe ] Push open every door, and some of them will be better than others. So first of all, I agree with you. [ Pace ] There should be more emphasis on the future for all of the domains. They should be talking more about technology for healthcare, for housing…

Harris: Everything!

Adams: I’m 100% on board that there’s too much attention on the past, and not enough on the future. [ Pace ] But I would say that his approach of giving attention to both, to the extent that he can, isn’t crazy.

Harris: But he can’t. Again, it’s a zero-sum contest between the past and the future here. Elon had to leave because it was such a scandalous association at that point. I perceive Elon as taking a significant personal and business risk by leaving, because a lot of his business is based on government contracts. Trump could screw him. Trump is this famously vindictive guy. If Trump decided to see his departure as a personal affront, he could say “I’m going to do whatever I can behind the scenes to make sure the Air Force doesn’t launch any satellites with SpaceX any more. We’re going to find some other way to do it, because Elon screwed me publicly”. That was a principled stand he took, because everything that was coming out of the administration was so beyond the pale. [ Somewhat plausible, but some mind reading here about both Trump and Musk ]

Adams: Maybe. I would say that is was more of a branding decision, coupled with the fact that he’s already running two or three companies, and the last fucking thing he wanted was to attend meetings in Washington where absolutely nothing happened. [ Reframe as branding and time constraints issue ]

Harris: No. No. There would be nothing better for him to have been riding shotgun [ kino ] on a presidency that was actually getting the points and connecting the factual dots with respect to climate change and the opportunity for clean tech. That would have been fantastic for him.

Adams: Let me ask you this. How would you feel, hypothetically, if this red team blue team comes up with a conclusion that matches your own? [ Future pace, also pacing Harris’ kino modality with “feel” ] Which is, “hey, it turns out that the consensus of scientists was right”, and now we’ve finally communicated it in a way that even the government can get on board and say “yeah, this is some kind of problem we have”. Suppose it came out that way, and then President Trump said, “Alright, we’re going to change a few things now that we’ve confirmed this, but we still don’t have an economic model. So as long as we’re hedging, I’m going to do everything I can to keep the economy working, because that gives us the most options in the future”. Would that be crazy? [ Another reasonable alternative explanation, countering the “Trump is crazy” narrative and providing a way for Harris’ values to be met under the current circumstances. ]

Harris: At this point, I’m going to have some climate scientist on the podcast to really spell out this case, closing every conceivable loophole, at some point. The concern among many climate scientists is, just when is it too late to grab the knob and twist it in the right direction? [ Strong kino, could also work as a visual ] We are playing this out over now the course of a full generation, when we had many of the facts in hand decades ago, and we don’t have a whole lot of time to spare necessarily, and we’re acting as though this is still a topic of uncertainty.

Adams: I think there are a couple problems here. One is that – and you can please fact check me on this – but my understanding is that climate scientists from, let’s say the ‘70s, have been wildly inaccurate about what was going to happen in the future. Before I make my next point, does that pass the fact-checking or no? [ Securing agreement. ]

Harris: I’m sure there are predictions that have not come true, as are the case in any science, but I don’t know if the preponderance of what was being said in the ‘70s is now considered to be inaccurate. [ Dismissing inaccurate predictions as routine. Very hedged answer, a tepid endorsement of the prediction record. ]

Adams: Yeah, my understanding is that the people who are studying this stuff thought we were entering a global cooling period. [ Credibility: Exposing the poor record of scientist predictions on the climate. They weren’t just wrong, they were so wrong that they predicted the exact opposite of what they predict now. Cialdini consistency principle. ] And then there was a period where – I think it was Al Gore may have predicted that some time about now, Manhattan would be flooded. [ More credibility attack: Manhattan is not underwater now, so they were wrong on that too. Also great visual. ] So I believe that there is a history [ Track record – a foundation for confirmation bias. ] that people on the right are looking at and saying “if you got it wrong all these times, we have to at least be a little skeptical this time”. It’s sort of “fool me three times, by the fourth time, I’m going to start asking some questions.” [ Explaining the alternative perspective in a very reasonable way ]

Harris: They don’t know what’s being claimed. I mean first of all cli- global warming is probably the wrong phrase, I mean we’re talking about climate change more than necessarily always warming. [ Chunk up reframe ] And we can even bite the bullet here that in some parts of the world, global warming would be a good thing. There are places that they’ll suddenly be able to grow crops they can’t grow. If you lived in Siberia I think you could want nothing more than global warming, [ Pacing objection ] but the question is we have a preponderance of the scientific community – I mean the vast preponderance – we here are now talking about something like debating big tobacco about whether cigarettes cause lung cancer [ Association with scary things ] who say, “We have to get a handle on this.” We are influencing this system in ways that we’re increasingly understanding is going to produce highly non-normal climate response that will do things like flood coastal cities and raise the temperature and create extreme weather events and all of this is going to cost a fantastic amount of money. [ List of emotionally undesirable things ] And what’s more, we have alternatives that have all of these other good things that come along with them. First of all we’ll no longer be paying these regimes in the middle east to wage a global war of jihadist terrorism against us. [ More association with scary things ] Right? We’ll get off the oil which couldn’t happen fast enough and you’re talking about removing the main source of air pollution for the entire planet right? It’s just it’s all good. Again I’ll grant you your point that there’s better and worse ways to do this and we don’t want to start burning up trillions of dollars in the process. We want to find out how to transition, in the most profitable way, but again, it’s fairly clear to everyone who’s thinking about this which direction you need to move to be embracing a sane, sustainable future and it is not in just guarding the oil reserves under the Saudi Royal family and extracting every last ounce from those lands. [ Absurd absolute ]

Adams: This gets us to the economic forecast, right. If you are telling me that the scientists all align on the fact that CO2 is going to raise the temperature, I would say, “That’s possible.” And in fact if you said gun to head, you gotta bet on this, I’ll say, “Yeah that’s probably true.” [ Changing the absolute certainty into varying degrees of likelihood. ] You know, closed system, it’s probably true. [ Framing “global warming is an imminent catastrophe” narrative as a special case of a closed system. ] But if you say to me, “Therefore we know the economics of when to invest, how to invest, when to wait for new technology…” [ Repeating the split between science and economic modeling ] I’m not sure if you see this [ pace ] but people always tweet to me all the new technologies for turning CO2 into products and fuel and everything else. So if you said, “What happens if we wait 10 years and the sea level has gone up an inch and it’s a degree warmer?” I would say, “Well, a bunch of places are going to be growing crops that they couldn’t have, a bunch of places will be growing fewer crops than they were.” That would cause some disruption, no doubt about it. But by then we might have technology that we can, just suck the sea out.

Harris: If we build it, if we build it. I mean China might have the technology. The question is do we want to have a worldview informed by the best science in so far as we can understand it in any moment, or one that repudiates the best science for patently political reasons? [ Reframe of the entire debate as science vs politics ] And that’s that’s

Adams: Well correct me if this is wrong but as President, President Trump’s administration has offered to expose the best thinking scientists to the world in a way that has never been done before, through this red team blue team process which they promise to televise and we get to follow along. And this is not a debate by the way. The red team blue team thing is not a debate where people say things and then you’re out of time. It’s a process where people get to go away check their claims, come back later. So it’s far, far more rigorous. [ Suggesting that the red team – blue team is the superior method because it allows the public to follow along. Also pointing out that it is different from a debate because most liberals think the “debate” is over, but the red team blue team exercise is a new thing whose conclusion is still open. This has the effect of opening up people’s minds again. ]

Harris: Again, if all of that does something to change the administration’s behavior, that would be a good thing. I can’t argue that. [ Agrees ] But the fact that we have someone like Pruitt gutting the EPA, betrays the actual bias of the administration which is that environmental concerns are basically anti-business and that we should just ignore the environment and extract every last lump of coal and ounce of oil we can out of the earth because [ New topic. Also, another absurd absolute: “ignore” the environment, “every last…” ]

Adams: So…

Harris: the dollar you can have in hand now is better than the dollar you can imagine getting but based on sunlight on some future date.

Adams: Right. One of the other tells for Cognitive Dissonance that I always talk about is turning a reasonable thing into an absolute. [ Scott calls it out ] So it seems to me that the people in the EPA are saying that it’s better to have a strong economy, even if some of these rules might introduce some risk to some people within the economy. Meaning that there might be different people who die because these rules are not in place, but there might be a greater number of them who have access to healthcare, you know, and things that keep people alive. So to say that changing these things does nothing but cost, is, I think missing the fact that in economics, there’s always a cost and there can be a benefit that’s greater than the cost. [ Bigger picture: all choices have both costs and benefits ]

Harris: Well, yeah, yeah, it’s just that there’s no argument that this is a principled search for those benefits. Again you could do the same thing with smoking. Why not red team, blue team whether cigarettes cause lung cancer. We can get in the way-back machine and go back to that moment…

Adams: Well, let’s not…

Harris: And the science is settled…

Adams: Well, let me tell you why. There’s a very good reason. That would have been an excellent thing to do in, I don’t know,

Harris: 1950

Adams: Yeah, in the 1950s. [ Reframe in time ] Because the problem was that the country was divided. And right now with climate scientists, although the scientists are not divided, it’s the perfect situation to educate the public. The administration is helpless until the public gets on board. [ Redirect the source of the response. It’s reasonable for an elected administration to be beholden to its constituents. ]

Harris: Well, that’s not true. The administration can do whatever it wants, as you, as we’ve seen. Trump can, at considerable reputational cost, can just change his mind, when he gets new information, and his fans, his supporters, will go along with him for the most part, and as you said, if he decides not to build the wall because it’s not practical, well then most people will come along. That was just his first negotiation. [ Technically correct, but not very plausible that an elected official goes against his base ]

Adams: But he doesn’t need to take a hit to his reputation, because he can do it in a way that improves his reputation while informing the public at the same time. [ Showing how Harris’ desired outcomes can be met with the red team blue team. ] And I think this red team, blue team process once televised, will do exactly that. We’re all going to be a lot smarter about this stuff. [ Future pace ]

Let me make one point about climate science that I think is too important to gloss over. My view is that you can divide it into three categories, the topic, and you can assign different levels of credibility to each. [ Chunk down reframe ] One would be the basic science, you know the chemistry and the physics. I would imagine that is very high credibility, that we probably have a good handle on that side. [ Pace ]

Secondly there’s the building of models, which is something that scientists do and they try to use all of their best thinking and people look at them, [ Pace ] but by their nature, the complexity, and the fact that some of the decisions depend on human judgment. That’s why there are different models and lots of them, [ Cialdini because ] and they come to slightly different, in some cases wildly different results, but they throw away the wildly different ones. In that situation, if you didn’t know even what the topic was – let’s say you didn’t know you were talking about climate science, you just said “A bunch of people who are super smart are building these complex models. There’s a bunch of them. Historically a lot of them didn’t work. Some of them actually match what we’ve observed.” I would say to you, Well, if you make enough models, and you have some flexibility to change them, that looks just like my experience when I was doing financial modeling for a bank, in which my boss would say “Hey, make this turn out this way,” and I would just tweak the assumptions until it did. That was my job. [ Equating climate models with business/financial models, which people trust far less. ]

Now, I would say that the models have a lower credibility, by their nature – I’m not saying how much lower – but I think you would agree a lower credibility than the basic science. [ Pace ]

And then there’s the third thing, which I keep mentioning because it’s so important, which is the economic models. That even if the, even if the scientific models where temperature are going are reasonably, or at least directionally right, there’s still a gigantic question about the smartest way to play it. And it is not my assumption that the smartest way to play it is, obviously and certainly, to go aggressively to do the… well take the example of the Paris Climate Accords. Even the people who were in favor of it, after they saw the details, at this point, kind of agree, “Well ok, it didn’t do that much.” [ If even the advocates acknowledging a flaw, that is very strong evidence. ]  So that the “what you do about it” is the part that matters, but you can’t get to that until the public is sort of lined up, uh, behind it. And I think that red team, blue team thing is the way to get there.

Harris: Again, everything you just said sounded reasonable, [ agrees ] but it doesn’t sound reasonable coming from someone who just said that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, right. Like that’s the thing that’s so highly and obviously non-optimal from the President. [ New topic from Harris again ]

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