MODIS-generated ocean chlorophyll-a map.

Corporate values lead engineers to deny industrial climate disruption

MODIS-generated ocean chlorophyll-a map.

MODIS-generated ocean chlorophyll-a map.

Part Four of a series

Industrial climate disruption – the disruption of the global climate as a result of human activity, especially our industrial consumption of fossil fuels – is more or less settled scientific fact. In order for industrial climate disruption to be incorrect, over a century of well-established science would have to be overturned. In addition, the operational principles of innumerable technologies derived from that well-established science would also have to be rethought. Some of the technologies that are derived from the same sciences that are responsible for the scientific certainty about industrial climate disruption include semiconductors, CCD-based cameras, microwave ovens, chlorophyll-measuring satellite cameras, nuclear energy, every model of thermal radiation ever performed, LED and fluorescent lighting, lasers, and nearly every modern communications system, just for starters.

While industrial climate disruption presents a clear threat to the libertarian values identified by the Iyer et al study discussed in Part One of this series, the threat to engineers is less obvious but no less real. As we learned in Part Two, engineers often come to value what their corporate employers value, namely short-term profits. Industrial climate disruption challenges the primacy of short-term profits and, as a result, engineers are also highly motivated to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Industrial climate disruption threatens corporate profits

Engineers take on many of the values of the corporations where they work day in and day out. As a result, engineers reasonably conclude that what’s good for the company is also good for the engineer. By extension, what’s bad for the company is also bad for the engineer, and there is little doubt that industrial climate disruption will be bad for corporations that design, manufacture, and sell products, at least in the short term. It’s tough to get people to accept something that threatens their jobs, and that’s why so many engineers deny industrial climate disruption.

Corporations naturally value profits – without them the corporation will eventually fail and shut down. As we learned in Part Two, corporations who want to make more money prefer the certainty of cost cutting to the uncertainty and risk of raising prices. In addition, investors in the corporation tend to keep the company focused on short term return-on-investment (ROI) in the form of dividend payments and perpetually increasing stock value.

When we look at how industrial climate disruption is likely to affect corporations, it’s pretty clear that corporations will be forced by regulators and/or legislators and might be pushed by investors and customers to absorb substantial new costs in order to mitigate and adapt to industrial climate disruption. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions could well require new regulations or taxes and certainly will require that the price of energy increase, all of which would directly affect corporate profits. There are also compliance costs that corporations have to pay in order to hire new employees and train current employees in how to conform to any new industrial climate disruption-related regulations.

Corporations will also have to adapt to increasing energy prices, especially the higher costs of transportation fuel. The offshoring of production that happened during the 1990s and 2000s was predicated upon cheap bunker fuel for containers ships and diesel for shipping products from ports across the country. Without cheap fuel, corporations will need to “onshore” the very production they offshored over the last 20 years, paying significant one-time costs in the process.

In addition, customers and certain types of investors (such as state pension plans who value long-term stability more than short-term ROI) are also likely to push companies to take on and track their emissions as a component of a larger corporate social responsibility (CSR) program. While this will be no big deal for the many corporations that already have CSR in place today, it will be a significant headache to those companies who don’t have CSR in their corporate DNA or that have been actively resisting calls for CSR. Adding CSR to their corporate plan could add significant costs and would involve limitations on the company’s behavior.

any corporations and a few entire industries would face lower profits and many unhappy investors if they have to comply with new regulations, pay new taxes, and impose restrictions on their own behavior as a response to industrial climate disruption. As we saw in Part Two, all of these factors that increase the cost of doing business result in additional cost-cutting pressure placed on the shoulders of engineers.

To paraphrase the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition: Regulations are bad for business. Taxes are bad for business. Restricting your own behavior is bad for business.

It’s no wonder then that engineers come to regard industrial climate disruption, which will absolutely be bad in the short term for most businesses, as something to be rejected. After all, it’s hard to get a man to accept something when his job depends on him not accepting it.

An example: engineers’ motivated arguments regarding natural climate variation

One of the more common arguments against the industrial causes of climate disruption is that the Earth’s climate has been varying naturally for billions of years, so the climate disruption that we’re experiencing must be a natural variation. This is a strong argument for engineers who are by their very nature resistant to change, used to being the expert on things, and who rely heavily on historical knowledge and personal experience.

Engineers who look at industrial climate disruption see the modern changes in temperature as played out against a backdrop of hundreds of millions of years of geologic history. They know that climate has varied wildly over that period and that those variations could not have been driven by human activity since humanity only started emitting significant amounts of greenhouse gases in the last few hundred years. So engineers look at industrial climate disruption and see something that is far more likely driven by some alternate natural source (such as the sun, another common argument against industrial climate disruption).

This argument is reasonable to a point. In engineering, if something behaved one way in the past, it’s a reasonable starting assumption to believe that it will behave the same way again. That’s the foundation of engineering experience, after all, and it’s entirely appropriate. The problem is that confirmation bias sends too many engineers off looking for alternate natural sources of the observed global temperature increases. What engineers should be doing instead is asking the following question: What’s different this time from the last time this happened?

In the case of industrial climate disruption, the answer to that question is “one hell of a lot.” There wasn’t a human civilization pumping gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere every year as it burned carbon-based fuels that have been slowly sequestered underground over the course of several hundred million years, for starters. There wasn’t six billion people that need to be fed and have their concentrated wastes processed either. Depending on how far back you look, the Earth might have been just coming out of an ice age, the continents might not have been in the same configuration they are today, or the sun might have been shining several percent less energy down onto the Earth’s surface.

But if engineers accept this, then that means they’re accepting that their own experience is wrong, or at least in need of some serious updating. And it means that their job might be at risk as their employer cuts jobs or drives them to work even longer hours for the same pay in order to increase efficiency and cut costs. None of those things are exactly pleasant for an engineer to consider. It’s so much easier for an engineer to simply deny that industrial climate disruption is a problem and then find reasons in support of that conclusion.

Engineers who have let their fear of losing their job send them off tilting at climate science windmills will be very hard to bring back to reality. The reason for this is simple – most engineers really don’t like being wrong. They’re used to being the experts to whom everyone looks for the correct answer. And they’re used to having people listen to them and take their advice, even on areas that are only tangentially related to . As a result, engineers who also deny industrial climate disruption will not want to admit that they had failed to do the necessary mathematical due-diligence because of their own personal biases.

Dilbert.com

Dilbert.com

There are a significant number of engineers among the ranks of industrial climate disruption deniers not because of some shared ideology among all engineers, but rather because many engineers share a common fear that industrial climate disruption will cost them their jobs. And it’s not an unreasonable fear – certain industries and types of corporations are going to be seriously affected by the various mitigation and adaptation strategies that are imposed upon them by regulators, politicians, insurance companies, and even some investors. If industrial climate disruption is merely a minor threat, and if enough people can be convinced of that fact, then it’s better for the engineer himself over the short run.

The problem is that the longer we wait to start mitigating and adapting to industrial climate disruption, the more it will cost and the more likely it is that the engineer loses his job in the long run. But as we saw in Part Two, most companies and engineers don’t focus on the long run any more.

In Part Five we’ll investigate why libertarians and engineers should embrace industrial climate disruption and how they could become powerful allies instead of ideological opponents.

CATEGORY: ToR4bracket

Tournament of Rock IV: AC/DC vs. Phil Collins

Finally, we have a result that we sort of expected: #16 Rick Springfield takes out unseeded Foreigner. The 87%-13% margin is more than we might have anticipated, but Rick’s fans tend to be enthusiastic. We’ll see him in the Great 8, where he will take on Duran Duran.

And now, the final match of the Sweet 16 round: #11 Phil Collins vs. AC/DC, which defeated #6 seed Bryan Adams in the prelims.

Me: Phil Collins is like your accountant got famous. AC/DC is like the burners in shop class got famous. What a choice. I will offer this up as…something. I’m not sure what.

That is the AC/DC wine display at a local liquor store. Let me repeat that: AC/DC wine Pictured here: Back in Black Shiraz and Highway to Hell Cabernet. You couldn’t get more corporate than this if Bill Gates and Carly Fiorina formed a band. It’s a long way to the top if you want to mainstream rock and roll, I guess.

[sigh] Nonetheless, this is still one of the greatest songs in rock history. Rip it up, boys. And I need more bagpipe.

I have no idea how Phil is going to compete with that, but let’s give it our best shot, shall we (with an assist from Philip Bailey).

Click to vote.

Here’s the up-to-date bracket.

It’s the end of the world: how will you spend it?

As you probably already know, the world ends tomorrow. If you didn’t know this, you might want to Google “Mayan calendar” and start getting right with Jesus. Anyhow, the end of the world is a pretty big deal, and we’d like to know how you plan on spending it. Also, we want to know how you’d spend it if you had your druthers. No answer is too fanciful, too fantastic, too outlandish. I mean, take a swing here, folks. The world will be over, so it’s not like anybody will be able to hold you accountable, right?

I’ll go first. What I’d like to be doing when the world ends… For dinner I’d like a big cut of prime rib from the Chop House, start it rare, then pan-blackened. Bourbon Stout. And I’d like a taste of Port Ellen, to boot. For dessert a generous helping of bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream and bourbon sauce. After dinner, I’d like to retire for the duration with the lovely Kaley Cuoco. Oh hell, dream big, Sam. Kaley Cuoco and Zooey Deschanel and Hannah Simone and Stana Katic.

What I probably will be doing is watching TV with the dog. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

Your turn.

And now, let’s hear from some of our favorite musical artists. Here’s REM:

And Rob Dickinson, with a romantic take for those of you lucky enough to be ending it all with the one you love.

So, bye, I guess. It’s been nice knowing everybody.

Do we need winter storm names?

IceStormFor those of you who have not noticed, the Weather Channel has decided to start a new trend:  named Winter Storms.  I had not realized this effort was being made until a colleague referred to the current storm heading towards the Great Lakes as “Draco.”

“Draco” as in “Draco Malfoy” from Harry Potter.  Actually the Weather Channel claims that their Draco is “The first legislator of Athens in Ancient Greece.”  Yeah, like anyone remembers him.  I’m actually OK with the Draco Malfoy’s name being given to a malevolent weather system.  But the rest of the list  is a little sketchy.  “Iago,” the villain from Othello?  I’m good with that.  Same with “Khan” and “Brutus.”  But “Gandolf”?  What did he do to get put on the Naughty Storms List?  Same with “Luna” and  “Plato.”

The whole concept is silly and seems like part of some media-driven marketing ploy.  The Weather Channel tries to make a good argument for its decision:

  • Naming a storm raises awareness.
  • A storm with a name takes on a personality all its own, which adds to awareness.
  • In today’s social media world, a name makes it much easier to reference in communication. [emphasis added]

Got it:  hashtag #Draco, anyone?  This seems like it belongs in the same category as “Invented Holidays Designed to Sell Stuff” (does anyone even still remember “Sweetest Day?”).

I couldn’t find this discussed, but I wonder if their list is copyrighted (unlike the National Hurricane Center list)?  Also, does this just apply to national storms?  How big does a storm have to be or how far does it have to travel before it merits a name?  For those of us in the Snow Belt, we can get hit seriously without the rest of the country noticing.  Do we get our own names that are geographically relevant?  I’d like “Bradshaw,” “Elway,” and “Modell” to be at the top of the Cleveland list.

But since we’re going down the Silly New Trend path, I’d like to add a few tweaks to make this more fun:

The winter storms need categories, like “F1″ or “Hurricane” that indicate the seriousness of the storm.  My colleague suggested, “Eh,” “Negligible,” “Whoa,” and “Hit the Deck!”  Each would, of course, need to be announced in an appropriate and well-rehearsed tone of voice, preferably with a sound track and over-the-top graphics.

The storm names should have also categories.  In the end, Draco Malfoy was a mostly ineffective sniveling coward, so that could reflect on the nature of the intended storm.  I think names like “Voldemort” and “Norman Bates” should be reserved for the truly frightening storms, and we should be able to change their names if they don’t deliver.

Personally, this all seems unnecessary–just ask anyone in Ohio who is old enough to remember about the “Blizzard of ’78” or the “Fourth of July Storm” or the “Xenia Tornado.”  Storms take on their own names without official sanction or a christening by the Weather Channel.

Photo by Cat White

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernment3

Climate disruption denial: a natural by-product of libertarian values

Decrease in amount of carbon 13 isotope due to the burning of fossil fuels.  Credit: CDIAC

Decrease in amount of carbon 13 isotope due to the burning of fossil fuels. Credit: CDIAC

Part Three of a series

Industrial climate disruption – the disruption of the global climate as a result of human activity, especially our industrial consumption of fossil fuels – is more or less settled scientific fact. In order for industrial climate disruption to be incorrect, over a century of well-established science would have to be overturned. Some of the established science that would need to be significantly wrong include the Stefan-Boltzmann Law (thermal radiation from a body in space), quantum mechanics, significant portions of chemistry, radioisotope dating and profiling, several laws relating to the behavior of gases, and innumerable measurements of the fundamental physical properties of materials. As an example, if quantum mechanics were significantly wrong, that would mean that microwave ovens, carbon dioxide industrial cutting lasers, and most of modern electronics and electronic imaging would all work differently from how quantum mechanics predicts.

The problem for libertarians is that accepting human responsibility for climate disruption creates a threat to their values. The Iyer et al paper detailed in Part One of this series found that libertarians are fundamentally driven by a single moral good, specifically the liberty to be left alone to do as they pleased. Industrial climate disruption challenges both the primacy of personal liberty and, as a result, libertarians are highly motivated to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and motivated reasoning

There’s always a reason when a person denies something. That reason may be based on fact and verifiable reality, such as someone rejecting a claim that the sky is a beautiful shade of paisley. But sometimes denial is based not on facts, but rather on belief, values, or personality. For example, there is no question that the earth is older than 6,000 years old, yet fundamentalist Christians known as “young-Earth creationists” deny that fact because it conflicts with their literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. When beliefs or values conflict with fact and verifiable reality, certain psychological effects either force us to change our beliefs or to deny both fact and reality.

When people learn new things, they can suffer from a psychological condition known as cognitive dissonance. Simply put, cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you are trying to simultaneously hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. What happens is the person feeling cognitive dissonance wants to eliminate their discomfort and quickly and as thoroughly as possible. In the example above, a young-Earth creationist who was also a paleontologist would have to either change his views about the age of the Earth or rationalize a reason for why God would want to deceive humanity into thinking the earth was 4.5 billion years old.

One way to alleviate cognitive dissonance is with another psychological effect known as confirmation bias. This is the process by which a person only seeks out or remembers only that information which confirms his or her existing beliefs while ignoring or forgetting information in conflict with those beliefs. Confirmation bias can also relate to the way in which a person interprets new information such that it supports his or her existing beliefs, whether the new information actually supports those beliefs or not.

Interpreting new information in a way that supports your own beliefs can reduce cognitive dissonance, but sometimes it’s more than that. Confirmation bias can also be part of what’s known as motivated reasoning. The modern concept of motivated reasoning began with a 1990 paper by Ziva Kunda, and he found that people let their personal motivations affect their reasoning. For example, if a person discovered that a coworker was behaving unethically at work, the person might be motivated to reject the information because he or she didn’t want to report the coworker to a superior for disciplinary action. Motivated reasoning is the process by which the facts are mentally adjusted in order to conform to a desired outcome instead of adjusting the outcome to conform with the facts.

A classic example of motivated of motivated reasoning goes something like this: it’s difficult to convince someone to accept something when their job depends on not accepting it. In this case, the outcome motivating the denial is the desire to stay employed. Many libertarians use motivated reasoning to reject the reality of industrial climate disruption because it is more than a mere threat to their jobs – industridal climate disruption is a threat to their most deeply held libertarian values.

Industrial climate disruption threatens libertarian values

According to Iyer et al, libertarians essentially have a single moral good – liberty. Specifically, they value the idea of “negative” liberty, which is defined as the right to do with your life and possessions whatever you please so long as you don’t infringe upon the right of others to do the same. Iyer et al also found that libertarians very strongly valued self-direction (the right of individuals to make their own choices in life) and achievement, more so than either conservatives or liberals.

The problem is that these values conflict with the strategies that have been proposed to adapt to and mitigate the effects of industrial climate disruption. As a result, libertarians have strong motivations to deny that industrial climate disruption is a problem.

By its very nature, industrial climate disruption is a global problem, and so the most effective responses to it will also be global in nature. Strategies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (the dominant cause of industrial climate disruption) will necessarily require cooperation among nations, communities, and individuals. Similarly, strategies to adapt to those effects that cannot be mitigated, such as increased incidence of river flooding and higher coastal storm surges, will greatly affect individuals as well as communities.

From a libertarian’s perspective, if industrial climate disruption is real, then his property rights are likely to be limited “for the greater good.” But there is no such thing as a “greater good” to a libertarian than individual rights, so right away this entire approach would be unacceptable to a libertarians. Furthermore, reducing greenhouse gas emissions could very well mean that more land needs to be cleared and easements across private property purchased for power lines to carry renewable energy from wherever it’s generated to the communities and industries that consume it. Or maybe some land would need to be seized by the government via eminent domain to build a wind turbine to generate electricity for someone else. Or maybe the property is located near sea level where models project the ocean will make the land unsuitable for habitation in 50 years. In these cases the libertarian would be motivated to reject any science that results in outcomes that are so contrary to his values.

But it goes beyond just property rights. According to Iyer et al, libertarians generally value altruism much lower than either conservatives or liberals, and they value egalitarianism lowest of all. Multiple analyses have demonstrated that the effects of industrial climate disruption will disproportionately affect the poor, and so one of the adaptation strategies planned is to provide additional aid to the poor. One example is the government helping to pay any increase in energy bills due to pricing greenhouse gases. But libertarians reject these kinds of aid (along with Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security) because they interfere with the right of the wealthy to spend their wealth however they see fit. If industrial climate disruption means limiting economic liberty, then that provides yet another motivation for libertarians to deny industrial climate disruption.

In addition, both of the prior examples would require a strong national government in order to push through the kinds of changes needed to effectively address industrial climate disruption. A strong national government means a government that has the power to restrict individual liberties, and libertarians simply cannot accept that.

An example: values-motivated arguments regarding climate sensitivity

As shown above, industrial climate disruption is clearly a threat to the liberties that libertarians value the most. This means that there is tremendous motivation for libertarians to rationalize away the threat. Iyer et al found that libertarians are more systemizing than empathizing, meaning that they are more interested in systems with equations and variables to be fiddled with than they are interested in people’s emotions. This focus on rational systems makes libertarians particularly good at motivated reasoning – they’ll go hunting for data, process that data in a way that is subject to their confirmation biases against industrial climate disruption, and then create a superficially reasonable rationale for why the science is wrong.

We can illustrate this process in one of the many arguments that libertarians make against various aspects of climate science, specifically the argument that climate scientists have miscalculated how much the global temperature will increase as a result of a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, aka the “climate sensitivity.” Deniers of industrial climate disruption often refer to the work of Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer, both of whom claim that climate sensitivity is well below the generally accepted range of 3.6 to 8.1 °F (2.0 to 4.5 °C). Lindzen proposed a hypothesis in 2001 that climate sensitivity was much lower because there was an “iris” in the tropics that would result in more efficient radiation of heat from the tropics into space. But that hypothesis was rapidly challenged, and other scientists have repeatedly shown errors in Lindzen’s work that cast significant doubt on the “iris effect.”

Roy Spencer has an alternate, but also cloud-related, hypothesis that not only suggests that climate sensitivity is low, but that nearly every other climate scientist on the planet is wrong about the feedback mechanism between tropical clouds and the El Nino/Southern Oscillation. Spencer’s latest version of the hypothesis was thoroughly refuted by at two independent scientific papers and the problems found with the paper were so severe that the editor of the journal that published the paper resigned as a way to restore the journal’s credibility.

There are dozens of papers that are based on multiple different lines of evidence (bottom-up climate models, directly measured temperatures, ice cores, even the measured response of the Earth’s climate to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo) that contradict both Lindzen and Spencer and that calculate climate sensitivity to be approximately in the accepted range – some are somewhat higher or lower, depending on the exact calculation methodology and data used. Yet libertarians regularly refer to one or the other of the two men as having the best estimates of climate sensitivity that is strictly based on observations instead of models. That both men use simplified models of their own devising (and that those models have been regularly found to be too simple for the purpose of estimating climate sensitivity) seems to be forgotten or justified in the service of reasoning away the reality of industrial climate disruption.

Another factor that is probably in play in libertarian arguments against high climate sensitivity is how libertarians process arguments. According to Iyer et al, libertarians focus on data and logic over “intangibles” like appearance or perceived credibility. This generally a good thing, but it can be taken too far, especially with respect to perceived credibility.

Lindzen and Spencer are both reasonably well-respected scientists. Lindzen is a professor at MIT and a member of the National Academy of Sciences because of his contributions to atmospheric physics. Spencer, along with his University of Alabama-Huntsville colleague John Christy, developed a methodology by which satellites could measure the Earth’s temperature at multiple altitudes using microwaves. But Lindzen and Spencer also have some credibility problems that should raise red flags about their objectivity on the issue of industrial climate disruption for anyone who’s reasoning is motivated by accuracy instead of ideology.

First, Lindzen has a decades-long history of proposing hypotheses about how the Earth’s climate works that have mostly turned out to be wrong. For a rundown of this by climate scientist Ray Pierrehumbert during his American Geophysical Union Tyndall lecture, skip ahead to about 33 minutes in the following video:

While Lindzen is often wrong, his questions and alternate hypotheses have largely improved the state of climate science and he’s mostly backed down from his ideas when they were thoroughly refuted. The same cannot necessarily be said for Spencer. Spencer and Christy have had to make at multiple significant corrections to their satellite temperature dataset, nearly all of which they had to make after others found problems with the satellites (annual variation in calibration targets, satellite orbital drift and decay, et al).

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

In addition, in 2012, Spencer manipulated the editor of the journal Remote Sensing into publishing a paper that purported to demonstrate that climate sensitivity was low. However, Spencer had provided a list of friendly reviewers to the editor and so the fundamentally flawed paper sailed through palpeer review with little to no oversight. Once the editor discovered he’d been used, he offered Spencer’s critics the opportunity to respond to Spencer in the journal and resigned as editor to restore the journal’s scientific credibility.

Finally, Spencer is a member of industrial climate disruption-denying, dominionist evangelical group the Cornwall Alliance. He wrote the science section of the Alliance’s white paper titled “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor,” a document that is filled with misinformation and denial. This is perhaps not a surprise given Spencer’s history and his evangelical faith. But the same document’s “Theology” section justifies denying predictions of sea level rise by saying that God swore he’d never send another flood (p15), and elsewhere on the same page the document says that the last ice age was a direct result of Noah’s Flood. These claims are in direct conflict with scientific theories and data about ice ages and ice sheet formation. While Spencer himself did not write the theology section, his association with a group that is more interested in making data fit their theology than looking clearly at what the data raises serious questions about Spencer’s scientific credibility on the subject of industrial climate disruption.

Iyer et al found that libertarians need to examine things, to feel rational, before they make decisions. This strong need to be and feel rational does nothing to protect a libertarian from cognitive dissonance or to insulate them from confirmation bias. And it does nothing to immunize libertarians from rationalizing away inconvenient data or conclusions that threaten their values. If anything, the libertarian need to feel rational makes libertarians more prone to motivated reasoning, not less – the more you know about a subject, the more susceptible to motivated reasoning you become.

No-one, of any ideology, is fundamentally immune to motivated reasoning. But libertarians tend to be highly motivated by industrial climate disruption because it threatens their core values. High motivation plus easily available misinformation equals lots of opportunity for confirmation bias to manipulate reasoning.

Given all these facts it’s no wonder that there are so many libertarians among the ranks of industrial climate disruption deniers.

In Part Four we’ll look closer at why engineers deny climate disruption.

Maybe David Brooks could teach Gen. Petraeus and the Kagans a thing or two about humility

Gen. Petraeus allowed unprecedented access to conservative Washington think tankers.

On Tuesday, December 18, at the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran revealed that, while he was top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus relied on the advisory services of prominent conservative think-tankers and military historians Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. He seems to have allowed them near-total access.

Provided desks, e-mail accounts and top-level security clearances in Kabul, they pored through classified intelligence reports, participated in senior-level strategy sessions and probed the assessments of field officers in order to advise Petraeus about how to fight the war differently.

But

The Kagans’ proximity to Petraeus, the country’s most-famous living general, provided an incentive for defense contractors to contribute to Kim Kagan’s think tank.

The Kagans had hoped to head off appearances of conflict of interest by working for free.

“There are actual patriots in the world,” Fred Kagan said. “It was very important to me not to be seen to be profiting from the war.”

Ah, the humility. Wait — I’ve got an idea. It was just revealed that conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks is teaching a course during the spring semester at Yale titled “Humility.” Apparently, he’s spoken and written about the subject before.

Brooks told New York magazine via email: “The title of the Humility course is, obviously, intentionally designed to provoke smart ass jibes, but there’s actually a serious point behind it.” From the course description: “The premise that human beings are blessed with many talents but are also burdened by sinfulness, ignorance, and weakness.”

Then why not invite Fred Kagan to sit in and learn a thing or two about humility? Then, should Brooks choose to follow up his spring course with one on the fall titled “Hubris,” he could invite Gen. Petraeus himself as a guest lecturer.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.