Monday, September 26, 2011

The Overhyped Nobel Prizes

The announcements of Nobel Prizes every October are probably the most famous, regular news events in the world, comparable to the results of presidential elections and FIFA World Cup final.  The latter are actually often predictable beforehand, hence, with less drama, while the public has no idea who are being seriously considered for the Prizes.   

Winning a Nobel Prize guarantees such mentioning in every introduction and all the media-promoted glory that is accepted without critical thinking.   But a Nobel Prize is just an exercise of a handful of people in the Nobel committee, and a winner should not be received like a gold standard.  

The Nobel Prizes are in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace, and Economics.  The first three categories are the most credible but least appreciated by the public.  I work in the science field, so I can evaluate some of the winners directly and rank their relative contributions.  I believe some winners are more qualified than others, while some are not qualified at all.  Ruling by judges is always subjective, unlike in many sports.  For example, by comparing the winning times of a particular race in recent World Championships or Olympics, one can clearly tell which winner (competition) is better than others, even if he does not win all the time.  Competent people can make the same comparison in science as well, although with less precision.  I would say most winning is probably deservedly so.  A bigger problem is often some scientists should have been included but were left out.   

If we could stop with only those three prizes , the world would be a better place.  But people are much more exposed to the other, less credible prizes.  Of the remaining Prizes, the Economics Prize is not an original Nobel.  Economics is not as a serious science as, e.g., chemistry or physics anyway.  I’d accept that most economists try to be serious, but how more often are they right about the status of the economies than by chance? 

The Literature Prize has been irrelevant for a long time, its main effect being selling a few more books for the largely obscure author-winners.  Even the more famous writers do not sell many books these days, and we all know Harry Potter is not going to win it.  It is like print newspapers.  Who cares?

That leaves the Peace Prize, which most lay people can understand, but has also been abused in any way imaginable. 

According to Alfred Nobel, the winners “have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  The winner selection these days indicates that this criterion has been greatly expanded, such that anything a person can possibly do is in.  But it still begs the question: is he qualified?

I would argue that many winners are not.  For example, many politicians are better suited in war crime courts than in the shrines.  What many politicians and organizations do or did is often more anti-peace than for peace.  If, say, a doctor stops hand bleeding for 10 people, but kills two people who shouldn’t have died, is he still a good doctor deserving the Nobel Peace Prize?  Like the literature prize, some obscure winners got to justify their existence, but it does not mean they were that important.  Mother Teresa basically had little true, positive influence on the ground. 

Dalai Lama is another case in point.  He won supposedly because he “consistently has opposed the use of violence.”  This is patently false, because he was the head of a government-in-exile, which has used and supported violence openly as well as secretly since 1950s.  Dalai can claim all day whether he knew or did not know it, but many books have been written about this subject, using various sources including from the supporting CIA and people in his government-in-exile, some even Dalai’s own siblings.  No dispute here.

The real effect from the Prize is that regular folks tend to think Dalai is such a godlike figure that whatever he says must be true, original, and unquestionable.  He is traveling all over the world preaching, not unlike the American evangelicals on TV or in big churches.  Like the evangelicals, what he really wants is the money, too.  So he has to meet those world leaders to keep a high profile and reminding people of his importance, and then ask the common folks to give money to his government, whose survival depends solely on donations.  This is what his whole meaning of life is.  Dealing with the Chinese government is useless, and he knows what he is doing now is not going to change anything, but it is the only thing he knows how to do.  In a sense, the Peace Prize has the opposite, anti-peace consequence.

It is even funnier about what Dalai preaches.  For an audience not familiar with Buddhism’s teaching, it may sound novel, although I suspect people are driven more to stardom than to the messages, which will get boring once hearing it a few times.  Dalai also hedges his words carefully not to offend the governments that feed him, so his answers to current-event questions, e.g., how he views certain wars, are quite banal.  And for people familiar with Buddhism, what he says is just cliché. 

The other example is Xiaobo Liu.  Did he deserve the Prize?  

I doubt the Nobel committee really understood who Liu is or what he thinks.  Or, perhaps they truly believe in what he believes?  Below is a tidbit of what Liu said or wrote in interviews or articles over the years.  They are not necessarily the exact words, but there is no distortion of his meaning, and all evidence indicates that he still holds these views.  His only ever defense was that he was too emotional.  All can be found or verified online, e.g., in wiki.

1. I think problems with the Chinese culture have something to do with the Chinese race, so it is very difficult to solve.
2.  I have a problem that I can’t get rid of, that is, language.  I can’t use English to express myself well.  If I were good in language, I would have nothing to do with China.  My ultimate sadness is that I am limited to Chinese, so I have to talk to something very stupid, which makes me sink lower and lower.   

3.  China needs 300 years of colonialism.  Whether 300 years is enough, I have my doubts. 

4.  Liu supports Bush’s Iraq War, perhaps more so than most Americans.  In fact, he absolutely supports every war by the West, including the Israelis’ oppression and occupation in the Palestine

5.  The Iraq and Afghanistan prisoner abuse by the US and UK is no big deal, nor even a deal.

To any rational person, 1 and 2 are racist.  3 is colonialism, so I don’t even know where to start.  4 and 5 are pro-wars.  Liu is not a casual, but a fervent advocator of all of them.  (He didn’t go to jail for it.)  No distortion, the above and similar writings by Liu can be found over and over.  So if anyone thinks he is worthy of the Peace Prize, let peace burn in hell. 

It is very easy and precise to summarize all his views in a short sentence: the West is absolutely good, everything else is evil, including China, Islam, and whatever.  This was actually a common thinking in the 1980s among some Chinese, although most people have outgrown it.  Few people, even the anti-government Chinese, can stomach such views now.  Yet Liu is trapped in the 1980s, his golden days when he was one of the few people who had had contact with the world outside of China.  He “complained” that people use the “300 years” against him, but really?  Is it justified or not?  

I suspect if Hitler had won, Liu would be singing praises for Hitler, too.  After all, Hitler was a racist, waged wars and invaded other countries for colonization. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On "911十周年系列访谈之对话方舟子"

In this Q &A 方舟子made a few assertions.  Most are mundane.  In many situations people see the same thing but arrive at different conclusions; that is normal, and analogous to whether you want the Lakers or Celtics to win, it says little to nothing about one’s character.  But, if you make the wrong choice about war and peace, no matter how much you love your daughter, you deserve no respect as a human being.

So the major issue is how 方舟子 views 阿富汗争和伊拉克. 


方舟子:发动伊拉克争和阿富汗争就是推翻独裁治,美国的初衷和争初期是受到阿富汗人和伊拉克人迎的。从电视上就可以看到他呼的,美国 打伊拉克的候,大家都放下武器。但是,争拖久之后可能就变质,那是另外一回事。   我得推翻达姆和塔利班,于当地人民来,是一件好事。我们应该站在他本国人民的角度来看问题是不是有好,不管美国打伊拉克到底 出于什么动机,了石油也好,了国的政治也好,或者了本国的利益。   

There are many fundamental, verifiable fallacies with his answers. 

1.  发动伊拉克争和阿富汗争就是推翻独裁.”  These words are deliberately misleading, more likely complete nonsense.  There are indisputable, documented records of history here.  Justification of 阿富汗 was that Taliban refused to turn over Al-Qaeda.  The primary justification of 伊拉克 was WMD.  The secondary was that Iraq was collaborating with Al-Qaeda.  The third, purely an afterthought, was democracy.   Without the first and second, most important justifications which are utterly bogus, the third had no legs.  

If he meant 发动伊拉克争和阿富汗争就是推翻独裁” regardless of the justifications, then the consequences of the wars are much than 推翻独裁治.

2.  美国的初衷和争初期是受到阿富汗人和伊拉克人迎的。从电视上就可以看到他呼的,美国 打伊拉克的候,大家都放下武器。”As the old saying goes, don’t believe everything you see on TV.  It has been abundantly documented that many celebrations were staged or shown from an overtly optimistic angle, like the infamous toppling of Saddam’s statue. I don’t even know how方舟子could claim “美国的初衷和争初期是受到阿富汗人和伊拉克人迎的”.  Were  there any real polls that said most 阿富汗人和伊拉克人 welcoming the impending wars?  In 阿富汗 there was a weak Northern alliance against Taliban, and伊拉克 was even worse.

How does one, with a common sense, view the reactions of 阿富汗人和伊拉克人 to the wars?  At least most shouldn’t like being bombed and invaded beforehand.  But as all hell broke loose, and they had no chance in the battlefield, it was simply natural to feel relief once the fighting stopped.  Hence, you will find some“阿富汗人和伊拉克人”the winning forces.  But that was mostly about resigning to the fact on the ground than rejoicing about the wars.  Sure, you will always find some 阿富汗人和伊拉克人 truly happy about the wars, and the media would duly show their faces, as in any other wars in the human history, but the majority? 

3. “争拖久之后可能就变质,那是另外一回事。” They are still the same wars!  Nothing 变质!  And akin to asking:  Mrs Lincoln, how do you like the night at the theater, except the part the President was shot?

4. “得推翻达姆和塔利班,于当地人民来,是一件好事。我们应该站在他本国人民的角度来看问题是不是有好.”  Well, if one says that overthrowing the American government/empire is good for the Americans and the whole world, is it OK to do it?  达姆和塔利班 were bad, but one always has to consider the costs and benefits of every action.  Are the wars worthy?  Hard question but also irrelevant.  Tell that to > one million of dead or injured people, and millions more living under constant fear of bombs and raids till today.   

These same views have been reported in other places and earlier, so it is something 方舟子believes in for a long time.  This is even worse, as we know a lot more about the wars now than 8-9 years ago.  This just shows that how hard it is to change an adult’s mind.  We all use our own frames to view and rationalize the world.  刘三百 believed in 300 years’ colonization in 1980s and still do.

There is no secret why 方舟子 feels this way.  Although in the same Q&A he denied he亲美, he actually has a long-standing, romanticized view of US: 美国人插手其他国家的事情,并不纯粹出于国家利益,而是出于人道主义,很天真地去管。But the excuse of naiveness rings hollow: exactly the same could have been said about the masses in Nazi Germany or Japanese empire in the 1930s.

Moreover, the fatal problem with this view: it is not “美国人插手其他国家的事情, it is always “美国政府插手其他国家的事情.  Did Bush invade Iraq because enough of the average Joes wrote him letters urging him to do so?  No, it never works that way. 

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” -- Hermann Goering.

Like John McCain, 方舟子 may never have an American war that he doesn’t like.