Talking about pseudoscience does not always bore me, but it often does. Not because it begs a far from obvious question, but because of its unsexiness. This kind of talk belongs to what I shall call, in honor of the famous WPM InternationalSpeedoScience:

SpeedoScience. N. An activity where its proponents exhibit too much of themselves, oblivious of the potency of their epistemic appararus.

SpeedoScience connotes the posturing we often see in the “but pseudoscience” crap, but it also encompasses a more general phenomenon. To substantiate this tentative definition, let’s try to build a good stock of examples.


Nassim Taleb‘s online swag sweaths SpeedoScience. Consider this semi-random swipe:

That tweet triggers SpeedoScience with knowledge claims about the location of Aleppo, Nocera, and skinless pundits in general. Our swan-like windbag‘s mythology extends from skin to balls and brains: not enough balls maketh the mathematician, too much the mafioso, too little of both the economist or worse the journalist. With plenty of both traders win, bombasts our ex-hedge-fund manager.

Salon scientists sport Speedos to parade, proclaim and provoke. What better way to display mano a mano bravado than a debate:

As if macho always meant mucho or that swayed audiences Gish-style signified anything sciency. One sneaky side-effect is that staging jousts favors the one who shrinks from sourcing stuff:

(Michael Brown should soon storify this specific ClimateBall exchange which involved a debate challenge.)


Chest thumps may sound like SpeedoScience, but shading or showboating comes in all tones. Take for instance how Hunton & Williams lawyers wonder about What Is Science over the tweeter:

Since nobody really equate science with consensus and the decisive bit is a myth, this contrarian line of counterargument is empty. Thus the hallmark of SpeedoScience seems to be that it leaves out too much to show too little. While Pseudoscience rests on the demarcation problem, SpeedoScience flourishes when what’s outside the Speedo and what is in becomes blurry.

There are of course many other indicators. Boxologizing quadrants. Bathing in pathos. Patiently parsing phrasesRaising concerns about people’s perception of words. (It may not be science, but it’s important.) Driving-by to peddle one’s ebook. Recycling the same graph over and over again instead of making an explicit argument. Blowing kisses, like Dimitris does just about every time someone mentions his work. Erecting a strawman to fire down a whole discipline, like Paul did a few months ago. Going emeritus to leave a riskier life with Mr. T, like Judy just did. I’m sure I’m missing more than a few huffs and puffs, but let’s end with SteveF’s Galileo gambit:

The most general version of SpeedoScience could be formulated by the acronym CRAP: using claptraps C from some region R of knowledge to make self-serving assertions A for one’s position P.

According to Jennifer Egan, it is technically impossible for a man to look better in a Speedo than in swim trunks. Our man in Australia tells me Ian Thorpe may disagree, or not. The aesthetic canons underlined by Egan’s theorem still apply to SpeedoScience. With the proviso that contrary to swimming garment, it is quite possible to indulge into SpeedoScience while being the greatest scientist ever.


About Willard

This entry was posted in Open Thread, Pseudoscience, Science, Scientisits, The philosophy of science, The scientific method and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to SpeedoScience

  1. Fergus Brown says:

    Just wondering how we can insert the phrase ‘budgie smugglers’ into the matter…

  2. Willard says:

    Some could argue that journalists evolved to be attracted by SpeedoScience:

    In a society where scientists compete with each other to be chosen as an official talking head by journalists, one of the best things an editor can do for her readership is to hire journalists who will turn out in his turn to be attractive for SpeedoScientists. This should increase the chances for an editor to have more readers, thus more journalists under her power. The result of this is that one of the most desirable quality a scientist can have in the eyes of a journalist is, quite simply, Budgie Smugglers.

  3. The other SteveF once stood and delivered me this memorable episode of SpeedoScience. The preening, strutting, shirt-ripping and muscle-flexing wind up to this bit of self-fulfilling prophesy:

    Fact is, nothing we do is going to make much difference in these countries. They have, in the thoughtful words of James (your hero) Hansen, ‘bigger fish to fry’. I suggest you get over it.

    I called it apathy at the time, but that was me being polite. It’s more like aggressively impotent and proud of it.

    Surely even Rud Istvan himself sees the humour of pointing to Enfamil as an “illustrative example” with his e-book hit-and-run marketing.


    SpeedoScience may even be a suit and tie affair. Here’s the unsinkable John Christy grandstanding the ineffectuality meme for US House Reps Like a Boss:

    As noted, the impact on global emission and global climate of the recent agreements in Paris regarding global emissions is not exactly quantifiable. Knowing how each country will behave regarding their emissions is essentially impossible to predict besides the added issue of not knowing how energy systems themselves will evolve over time. Because halting the emissions of our entire country would have such a tiny calculated impact on global climate, it is obvious that fractional reductions in emissions through regulation would produce imperceptible results. In other words, there would be no evidence in the future to demonstrate that a particular climate impact was induced by the proposed and enacted regulations. Thus, the regulations will have no meaningful or useful consequence on the physical climate system – even if one believes climate models are useful tools for prediction.

    It’s all there. Strawman scenarios, Game Theory, Uncertainty Monsters (save for cherry-picked ECS estimates <= 1.8 °C), conflating projection and prediction when bashing teh Stoopid Modulz, the Grijalva witch hunt, hand-wringing about "murky and wicked science" in the best interests of a naive and vulnerable public who "will ultimately pay the cost of any legislation alleged to deal with climate" — we must save them at any cost from the consensus of climate gatekeepers and "experts" ("scare quotes" in original) because it's *obvious* that what we assert cannot be perceived must therefore not be worth worrying about!

    Fortunately, an unspecified but well-credentialed Red Team could come to the public rescue by writing an "assessment report" which "expresses legitimate, alternative hypotheses" for the paltry sum of 5-10% of the ~$2 bn/yr US climate science expenditure.

    Note that the Budgie Smugglers may only be visible because the suit and tie don’t actually exist.

  4. angech says:

    Willard , I’m gohan to miss out on this one since I changed from speedos to trunks 25 years ago.
    The reason the N and O2 are not as important is that the radiation mainly passes through them both ways so in one sense they don’t exist.
    There is heat transfer by collision so they do have a bulk effect in warming up with the CO2. It may have some effect on the mechanics of of heat transfer but since they would gain or lose energy in synch with the effective or current CO2 energy level and can gain or lose energy mainly by collision it would seem to be mainly the GHG ie CO2 and H2O that one worries about.

  5. angech says:

    OK, one comment. Speedos are the preferred lower half of most super hero outfits. I believe Scott Mandia functions well in them.

  6. Willard says:

    For N and O2, it’s next door, Doc.

  7. Fergus Brown says:

    That was far too easy… impressed. Note, Scott Mandia may also suffer from the same syndrome as super hero types – Action Man / GI Joe genital nonexistence, i.e., a couple of budgies short of a hypothesis.

  8. JCH says:

    CargoCult Etc. … just sayin’. It’s a scientific cesspool. Floaters abound.

  9. anoilman says:

    Maybe SpeedoScientists could talk on RejecTED? I’m sure they’d make the grade.

  10. Dan Riley says:

    It seems somehow appropriate that Romer takes inspiration from Smolin, who also erected “a strawman to fire down a whole discipline”

  11. Susan Anderson says:

    “Philosophy: Donut be disappointed by reality. #KrispyDremes do come true!” http://budgysmuggler.com.au/mens-swimwear/foods/donuts.html

    Sorry, something took over my brain on the eve of “however bad you think it will be, it’s worse.”

    In summary

    Washington (The Borowitz Report)—Moving vans arrived at the White House on Wednesday to remove all traces of competence and dignity.

    Working around the clock, movers started clearing out the optimism and progress that had accumulated during the past eight years.

    “Once we’ve packed up that stuff, we’ll start moving out the wisdom and maturity,” one of the movers said. “The guy who’s moving in wants all of that gone.”

    After the movers complete their work, a cleaning crew will come in and scrub the White House of every last speck of compassion.

    The movers are working under a strict deadline, since the White House needs to be totally stripped of decency by nine o’clock on Friday morning, the mover said.

    “The new guy wants the place to be completely empty, ” he said. “He has a lot of crap.”

  12. Willard says:

    Another reason why Speedos might be here to stay:

  13. anoilman says:

    Speedos will be all the rage with the Olympics in 100 years. We could have Volley Ball for winter, and sand dune skiing in summer?

  14. russellseitz says:

    It is a known fact that Aleppo was the Marx brother who quit the Groucho Show to become a Shriner.

  15. angech says:

    I do like reading Talib.
    Fooled by randomness.
    Explained to me to the concept of a positive test or hypothesis at a set level of precision being only as useful as the incidence in the sample population. The screening fallacy.
    I thought he was positive on AGW in this book so a little surprised at knocking him. On the other hand if you follow his ideas they do not support consensus messaging as being reliable.
    JCH wins 2016 on a TKO. Let’s see how 2017 goes.

  16. JCH says:

    angech, shake out some more cobwebs… it was a KO. As for 2017, you are up against this. It’s called warmth… I figure at least a mean of ~.90 ℃ for 2017, or… the second warmest year in the GISS record. Pray for the Kimikamikaze; it’s all CargoCult Etc. has got… a divine wind… a miracle.

    Look at the stadium wave come and go… 2006 to 2014… the big green dip… negative PDO plus La Niña dominance… the Kimikamikaze… and now it’s gone… the skeptic’s crutch… the gift to their abject stupidity… is gone.

    An ordinary La Niña does you no good at all. We just had one.

  17. Willard says:

    > I thought he was positive on AGW in this book so a little surprised at knocking him.

    I thought you believed in AGW too, Doc. Don’t you?


    Speaking of Aleppo:

    “IBM, Microsoft,” he added, “the profit they made was larger than the top four banks in China put together … But where did the money go?”

    Ma said that 30 years ago the American companies that people in China heard about were Ford and Boeing. Today the companies that people in China talk about are in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street.

    At the same time, the US spent a lot of money on foreign conflicts. “In the past 30 years, America had 13 wars spending $14.2 trillion … no matter how good your strategy is you’re supposed to spend money on your own people,” Ma said. “The money goes to Wall Street. Then what happened? Year 2008 wiped out $19.2 trillion in US income … What if the money was spent on the Midwest of the United States?”

    “The other countries steal jobs from you guys — that is your strategy. You did not distribute the money in the proper way.”


    Compare and contrast with the “but the poor” that is making the rounds at Judy’s as we speak.

    PS: Judy moderated the comment where I copy-pasted that quote. Perhaps it was the word “GRRROWTH.”

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