Archive for August, 2010

Is truth an accord with objective reality?

Barry Ritholtz wonders aboout Seeking the Truth — Or Obscuring It?. He lists three reasons for seeking this sort of Truth.

1) intellectual interest: “So few people seem to understand what objective reality is that it is a rarified space to even get near, much less inhabit.”

2) professional: “Fund managers whose universe deviate from reality eventually come to major losses, under-performance, and professional ruin.”

3) political: “we live in a society where decision-making takes place with less and less reverence for the Truth, with terrible consequences.”

One of the surprising things this blog has taught me about Reality is how long it takes to go viral. There are entrenched interests opposed to the truth, and they release their grip on their subjective fantasies very, very slowly.

Barry wonders “Are you a truth seeker, or a truth obscurer?” That is a question about intellectual integrity. It is a question one must always use to qualify communications from others.

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Pay equity?

There has been a long standing observation that there is pay inequity in the workforce by gender. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report says that “In 2009, women who were full-time wage and salary workers had median weekly earnings of $657, or about 80 percent of the $819 median for their male counterparts.” Carpe Diem takes a look at this and wonders about the use of the term “counterparts” and asks Would 2,000 Female Deaths Be Worth It for Pay Equity?

The point made is that, in 2009, fatal occupational injuries showed that “there were more than 13 job-related deaths for men in 2009 for woman who died in a job-related accident.”

The huge male-female occupational death gap, which has persisted over many decades, has surprisingly received very little attention as one important factor that could explain some of the 80% female-male pay gap. To achieve greater female-male pay equity there would most likely have to be an increase in the number of women in higher-paying, but higher-risk occupations. That outcome will certainly reduce the gender pay gap, but it would come at a cost—significantly more fatal occupational deaths and injuries for women.

There is a gender bias in the workforce. Average pay is only one indicator. Occupational deaths are another. Those who look at the issue will find many more factors at play. It is the market at work. Those who do not like market results have been choosing just one factor that supports their desires to try to support governmental action to try to force the market into their preferences. That is likely not an honest approach towards opinion.

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Prosecution via press release

Topix CEO Chris Tolles says it’s “Pissed off people, not illegality, is the issue to watch,” TechCrunch carries the story When Attorneys General Attack.

This is going to happen more – The States’ Attorneys General are the place that complaints about your company will probably end up. This is especially true if you host a social or community based site where people can post things that others may dislike. And, there’s no downside to attacking a company based in California for these guys (MyScape, Facebook, Craigslist have all been targets in the past couple of years). Taking complaints from your citizenry and turning them into political capital is simply too good an opportunity for these guys to pass up.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition – Unlike most other people in business who will attempt to reach out to you to get what they want, and use the threat of going public as a tool, our experience is that the offices of the Attorneys’ General seem to be most happy communicating via press conference, without any sort of preliminaries. This is primarily a political exercise, and you’re dealing with people who are very empowered to make life difficult for you.

Consumer protection is a valid concern for the AG. Care is needed to keep that concern from going viral. As consumers are more plugged in to international commercial networks, the opportunities for misunderstandings and complaint grows. Talking to the press first rather than trying to resolve things directly with the source of the itch is saying that politics has priority over solution. That is prosecutorial misconduct.

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No competition? Net neutrality and a hidden agenda

The net neutrality thing keeps pinging the awareness as the FCC continues its efforts to expand its authority to include the I’net as well as the airwaves. DSLreports wonders If We Had Competition, We Might Not Need Neutrality Rules and figures “we may not be getting either.”

While it sounds nice to mandate that network service providers should treat everyone and every type of traffic the same, it is also appealing to think that businesses should be able to do what they want with their property. The rationale used for promoting net neutrality regulation is the idea that network services are a monopoly or near so and therefore need regulation much like the telephone monopoly of fifty years ago. There are two difficulties with this position. One is that there is no demonstrated problem that is to be solved by net neutrality type regulation. The other is that the monopoly does not exist, despite the presumption of the report and in some of its comments.

Most households in urban or suburban areas have the choice between the cable TV company, the telephone company, the various cell phone companies, or even some specialized wifi companies to gain access to the I’net. That is the front end competition. The backbone or infrastructure competition is not quite so visible but, again, there are a number of companies providing long haul service. These often cater to large business and use agreements to help increase bandwidth utilization. The central switches, whether for I’net routing or access to the telephone network are already quite regulated.

There is an argument against net neutrality that must be considered as well. Some sorts of I’net traffic are time sensitive. These include such things streaming video or telephony services. If they cannot be given non-neutral priority, then someone’s download of a new software distribution might well interrupt a voice conversation or make for choppy movie viewing.

A key about this topic is in the response to the news that Google and Verizon were talking to the FCC about net neutrality. Additional observations besides the colluding big corporations include the lack of caring for the end user and other such ‘big corp vs little guy’ themes. That implies an emotional rather than rational basis to the conflicts.

UPDATE: CNet has a good rundown by Berin Szoka and Adam Thierer – Just say no to Ma Bell-era Net neutrality regulation – that provides some good background on this issue.

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What has science come to (secrecy)?

When a science oriented blog takes up things like “Leave no trace of your electronic correspondence” it makes one wonder. This might be a response to the CRU email message release but, in any case, it goes away from basic values of science research. The topic might bring to mind the famous missing minutes in the Nixon White House tapes.

The essay suggests that letters “were like mini-contracts” and voice conversations were not. That is a question as verbal contracts are just as valid as written ones. The difference is that written ones have more certainty and less confusion.

Now whatever you have to say to someone, you can rest assured that your correspondence will never come back to bite you.

Gullibility is also at issue here. Whenever someone makes a lock, someone else figures out how to defeat it. Thinking you can buy confidentiality as a magic bullet is a mistake that has been made many times over the years. The best way to avoid having communications “come back to bite you” is to never engage in communications that are dishonest or despicable.

Of course, as has been seen with some political figures, there are those who will create things for you in order to try to make them bite. That’s another issue.

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A problem with permits

The RGJ highlights a problem with permits in rationalizing its lawsuit to dig dirt on the governor. They do a ‘fact finding’ report on the question Is loss of privacy the price of a concealed weapon?.

The claim that the information on the permit includes Social Security numbers, relatives and health information is bogus. Yes, that information is on the application for the permit, but the application isn’t on the permit itself.

One has to wonder about an 11 page application with four pages to be filled out properly in order to be able to obtain permission to exercise a Constitutional right. The RGJ says the application itself is protected and only the permit is public record. That is somewhat like the sex offender database. Now you can not only find out if your neighbor is a sex offender, you can also find out if he carries a gun. For some, it seems, these are equally dangerous threats.

Or, as the newspaper illustrates, having this sort of data in the public record also provides ammunition for political slandering.

The community is much bigger than it used to be. Public records are much easier to access and search than ever before. The misuse and lack of responsibility in using the data available may be a rising problem.

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On the definition (and why) of marriage

Marriage is about defending women

That’s the opinion of Sam Schulman in Gay marriage: Why Judge Walker got Proposition 8 ruling wrong

Modern marriage is only the least worst version of marriage that has emerged from all this – but it is still necessary for women. What protects women, ultimately, is that marriage laws and customs confer upon her independence something extra – dignity, protection, sacredness – that others must respect. And if this quality can be bestowed upon anyone, even those not in intersexual relationships – it reduces, even dissolves its force.

This is interesting in light of the judge’s view that men and women are equal. What Schulman’s argument brings to the table is the matter of rape as a special crime as well as the problems of false accusations of rape. Those crimes would not exist if the thesis of the judge were correct.

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The public speaks, the government denies.

Just recently, an Arizona judge turned the vote of the people on its head in regard to immigration law. Now a U.S. District Court judge had done the same regarding the use of a label. John McCormack describes the situation in Federal Judge: U.S. Constitution Guarantees Right to Same-Sex Marriage. The ruling is such that it could be used to support incest, polygamy, and who knows what other kinds of ‘consensual relationships’ that could be invented.

The courts are on one front, the executive branch is on another. WWS describes how Texas declares War on the EPA.

official response from Bryan Shaw, head of the TCEQ (the State regulatory body) and Greg Abbott, the Texas Attorney General, to Lisa Jackson and the EPA.

I have *never* read an official government document that is this bitter and contemptuous of the Federal level – I never thought I would! This is damn close to a new Declaration of Independance.

Who is in charge here? It might be worth some worry if these shenanigans frustrate the people sufficiently. The Tea Part is only a first rather mild response. What may follows should be a concern.

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There is now no law

VDH has a must read. The topic is illegal immigration and the point is the matter of identity.

We are in revolutionary times when the law is a malleable thing, its validity predicated only on its perceived social utility at any given moment.

This is how nations are lost.

He points out how “historical grievances have made enforcement of the law rather debatable, given that sovereignty, national borders, and the notion of a definable America altogether are “problematic.”” That provides a contrast to the peace at the Canadian border as being due, in part, to Canadians not harboring resentment about the location of their border with the U.S.

The great paradox is described. This is the contradiction between people who escape from one country to seek refuge in another and then try to recreate that from which they found it necessary to seek refuge.

Then there’s Palin’s take comparing the Arizona governor’s stance to the President’s on illegal immigration. That provides another potential boon for T-shirt sales with slogans. It illustrates that there are many who do not want to lose their nation in the manner Hanson warns about.

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Prerequisites for a profession

When is it education and when is it training? The problem of defining a proper schooling for a medical doctors came up in a story about one med school that allowed some of its students to bypass pre-med university courses in the hard sciences. David Gorski has a good discussion of the implications in “Hard science” and medical school

What bothers me about Muller and Kase’s thesis is, as I have said before, the way that it seems to view science as an obstacle to getting into medical school and becoming a doctor, as opposed to being a necessary prerequisite to being able to put the flood of information taught in medical school into context. The humanistic part of medicine is very important to being an effective, but if those humanistic elements are not also wedded to a firm understanding of the science of clinical practice, we risk producing a generation of physicians who are very good at holding their patients’ hands and offering encouragement to them but not so good at actually treating their medical problems.

One way to look at this is that med schools are regressing to an equivalence with chiropractic schools in eliminating calculus and hard science as prerequisites. That reinforces Gorski’s fear about the spread of alternative medicine and the abandonment of science in developing effective therapies.

Science informs what is good medicine, and physicians should have a sufficient grounding in the scientific method to be able to recognize what is and is not good scientific and clinical evidence for a therapy.

One of the problems is that of training versus education. It takes training to acquire the skills a physician must have yet it takes education for them to evaluate to extend and extrapolate and evaluate those skills and the reasons for them. Training is easy to teach and to test and those are very attractive attributes. Education is a matter of values and viewpoints and ways of understanding that make it more difficult to teach and to test. The question for medicine, as well as for many other professions, is that of a proper balance.

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Hubris and arrogance in science?

The ScienceBlogs network has suffered a loss of authors. The immediate stimulus was their running a PepsiCo Food Frontiers nutrition blog. That offended other bloggers sense of superiority in independence from crass commercial things. Virginia Heffernan describes the mess.

But the bloggers’ eek-a-mouse posturing wasn’t the most striking part of the affair. Instead, it was the weird vindictiveness of many of the most prominent blogs. The stilted and seething tone of some of the defection posts sent me into the ScienceBlogs archives, where I expected to find original insights into science by writers who stress that they are part of, in the blogger Dave Munger’s words, “the most influential science blogging network in the world.” And while I found interesting stuff here and there, I also discovered that ScienceBlogs has become preoccupied with trivia, name-calling and saber rattling. Maybe that’s why the ScienceBlogs ship started to sink.

Under cover of intellectual rigor, the science bloggers — or many of the most visible ones, anyway — prosecute agendas so charged with bigotry that it doesn’t take a pun-happy French critic or a rapier-witted Cambridge atheist to call this whole ScienceBlogs enterprise what it is, or has become: class-war claptrap.

The blog network was flying under false colors. Like much of the climate alarmism ‘science,’ its components were ideological and not scientific. When someone with a financial stake in the content started to participate it was too much for the ideologues. The result is a revealing of the hubris and arrogance of people who insist on living where the light of reality is quite dim.

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Metrics of utility

There is a push for accountability that motivates the need for easily measured and valued results. In education it is the problem of teacher pay for performance. In science, it is the matter of government funded research.

The idea is very attractive as nobody wants to pay for results they can’t see. The problem is that attractive ideas may simplify complex situations and that can create problems. Bob Carter hits it in The phenomena of disinvitation and the brotherhood of silence as a stimulus behind much of the climate research bias.

It is also part of a much wider pattern of science degradation that has developed since the 1980s. The change has been caused in part by the insistence of politicians that taxpayers’ money must be used in support of scientific research that is “useful” or “in the national interest”.

In other words, climate alarmists need to provide some socially relevant measurable outcome in order to maintain the research grant funding. Any questions concerning their science attacks this resource and must be countered. That is what leads to pathological behaviors to demean, isolate, and impugn those who don’t get with the program. It is a matter of survival, after all.

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