Archive for December, 2010

Medical matters, evidence, and people’s desires

There are several essays on the distortion of evidence in the realm of medicine this morning. A Disconnect between cell phone fears and science takes on a book about the dangers of cell phone radiation. Compare and Contrast talks about how traditional, evidence based, medicine learns from failure while ‘alternative’ medical methods don’t. The Acupuncture and Fasciae Fallacy gets into the evidence regarding ancient Chinese medical ideas. CAM Use by Brain Tumor Patients takes a look at the definition of CAM, complementary and alternative medicine, and how it can yield difficult to interpret results.

There is a common thread here, one that can be seen in other recent controversies such as those centering on climate research and those on net neutrality.

Disconnect is a good example of the kind of material used by the EMF alarmist movement. Virtually all the alarmist studies that Davis cites used a poor methodology and/or have not been replicated in follow up studies. In fact, most have been refuted by far more comprehensive and rigorous studies. In many cases, serious flaws have been found with studies that show harm. It is at odds with the conclusions of mainstream expert groups such as the SCENHIR (* 5 P 8): It is concluded from three independent lines of evidence (epidemiological, animal and in vitro studies) that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans. Disconnect is designed to bamboozle and scare the lay reader, not to inform.

and on the idea of growth and change for improvement?

Most alt med interventions are, of course, based on eternal truths that cannot be improved or changed. They are often immune to reality induced change. Studies that confirm their eternal truth are always accepted. Studies that show harm or lack of efficacy? Not so much.

As to why it is a social concern …

not only millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on seemingly ridiculous research projects, but also the very fact that they are supporting these projects is often used to lend an appearance of legitimacy to treatments and ideas that are not legitimate.

and the result for individuals can also be a concern,

much of the harm that comes from CAM use derives from indirect harm – mostly from a delay or absence of evidence-based therapy.

Like the net neutrality advocates obsessing on industry lobbying but denying the existence of advocacy groups or the climate research community’s epithets about those who question their research, there is a pattern of distortion, wishful thinking, and logical fallacies that illustrates it is not the topic so much as human behavior that is the root cause problem.

Leave a Comment

The Big Picture

Sometimes you get so buried in details that you forget to take a look at the ‘big picture.’ Victor Davis Hanson provides a reminder of that view in his essay The American 21st Century

a nation’s health is not gauged by bouts of recession and self-doubt, but by its time-honored political, economic, military and social foundations. A temporarily ill-seeming America is nevertheless still growing, stable, multiethnic, transparent, individualistic, self-critical and meritocratic; almost all of its apparently healthy rivals in fact are not.

The tendency is to see all the faults where you are and all the benefits everywhere else. A proper perspective can be a good idea.

Leave a Comment

Net neutrality arguments

Peter Ferrara thinks Net Neutrality is Theft. He notes that there is an expensive infrastructure that requires massive capitalization. Regulation devalues this infrastructure because it limits how it can be used.

Just as the government is not needed to tell FedEx what delivery routes to use, or how to get the packages to their destination overnight, it is not needed to tell Internet Service Providers and broadband operators how to deliver their access to Cyberspace. Those ISPs and broadband operators are subject to fierce market competition, and are driven by market incentives to get a return on all that investment money they put into the ground or into orbit. These factors force them to serve the people, far, far better than politics forces government to serve the people. That is why the Internet works so well.

The arguments that those in favor of I’net regulation propose can be seen in places like TechDirt and Slashdot. Two of the main ones center on competition and lobbying.

  • There is no competition. This is based on their dependence on a cable provider, it seems, and a desire for very high speed access at very low cost. The attributes of the selections available does not mean that there is no competition, just that the options available are not what you’d hope they be. That gets back to Ferrara’s point about infrastructure cost.
  • Evil corporate conspiracies manipulate the FCC. It is particularly ironic that AT&T is cited because of what the FCC did to AT&T in the breakup of the landline monopoly. The reality is that the FCC is a political entity and subject to political pressures. That is readily seen in the partisan split in the vote on the recent net neutrality issue. The influence of evil for profit corporations has not been shown to be as portrayed, especially when organizations such as FreePress.org are used as a referent.

As many have noted, there is no pressing issue behind the net neutrality push. It’s advocates are taking a pre-emptive stance and providing the impression that what they say they fear might happen isn’t really the fundamental motive behind their efforts. The public does not appear to be with them. Recent polls indicate only 21% favor I’net regulation. A Free Press pledge supporting such action had 65 candidates in the last election sign on and they all lost. Congress has made it clear that the FCC should cease and desist in the effort and the Court has ruled that the issue is out of the venue of the FCC.

The question is, why, without any pressing obvious reason and against such massive opposition to action, the FCC chose to act anyway.

Leave a Comment

The peak whatever FUD mongering.

Since the ‘population bomb’ fear mongering about having too many people and insufficient resources, there have been many who continue the alarmism that the supply of some resource or other will peak and we will run out of it and disaster will occur. Those folks tend to underestimate both the size of the earth and the ingenuity of man.

It appears that the latest example is noted by Mark Perry in discussing the The Finite World of Paul Krugman’s Thinking.

Paul Krugman claims that the commodity markets are telling us that we’re living in an Ehrlich-like finite world of resource scarcity where “the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices.”

That prompted a look at the Dow Jones AIG Commodity Index adjusted for inflation from 1934 to 2010.

Bottom Line: Over a very long period of time (76 years), there has been a significant downward trend in the real prices of commodities (see red trend line in graph), and the decline in commodity prices has taken place during a period when the world population increased by more than three times, from 2 billion in 1934 to the current population of 7 billion in 2010. Don asks the right question:

“If economic growth since the industrial revolution coincided with increasing resource supplies, why should we expect that continued economic growth will suddenly start to have the opposite, dreary effects predicted by Mr. Krugman?”

Some folks seem to hold disaster dear, despite any evidence that contradicts their beliefs. That can be an interesting study in itself.

Leave a Comment

Fact checkers with an agenda

The local newspaper provides an example of agenda driven ‘fact checking’ in “Fact checker: Don’t see consensus on global warming? Look past Fox News”. The Fox News reference is to a left wing think tank ‘study’ whose intent is to show that those not in their camp are dumb, stupid, or otherwise lacking in some necessary human attribute.

The fact check story does not get into the quality of the study. Instead, it picks up the conclusions and runs with them. In the process, it demonstrates the ‘evil corporation’ bias, shows how the wrong questions can be used as straw men, and provides some very interesting conundrums for any critical reader. For instance. a local climate scientist is cited:

Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist at Reno’s Desert Research Institute, told Fact Checker, “There seems little doubt that the earth as a whole is warming, based on separate evidence from the surface, the lower atmosphere and from satellites.”

Asked if the main causes are human-related, he said, “Without invoking human-related influences, we are at a loss for mechanisms that can account for the observed warming.”

Redmond does have the credentials but one has to wonder about the “loss for mechanisms” idea. The whole climate brouhaha is not about some minor warming of the earth (about a degree over a human lifetime) but rather about its measure and the many mechanisms that are involved in climate and weather. It is unthinkable that a reputable scientist would be at a loss to find any other than just one mechanism involved in something as complex as climate, especially when the whole field involves models trying to balance the influences from a plethora of different mechanisms.

But, the ‘other side is stupid’ fact checking can be stretched into a 3 web pages ‘news’ story to support the politically correct view. Such propaganda is particularly strident now due in part to the predictions of the climate alarmists needing significant post hoc revision in light of recent winters and the revelation about the manner of doing business in the climate research community. People are beginning to take notice that a lot of what they have been fed about climate does not fit with the basic ideas of intellectual integrity that are fundamental to scientific inquiry.

UPDATE: For a good rundown on the real issue and the uncertainties see Strata SphereLet It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – “the real reason the IPCC’s theories about global warming are losing credibility is because the predictions of what would happen to our climate are proving to be sadly wrong.” – graphs, charts, and data along with a but more nuanced look at climate and whether than you’ll find in the newspaper.

For a rundown on the ‘other side is dumb’ study, see Ace – Fox News Watchers Misinformed? – a 20 minute video explaining the problems with the study.

Leave a Comment

Doom and gloom propaganda: Boomer retirement

The AP has a story on Fox that is a study in modern media propaganda: Baby boomers near 65 with retirements in jeopardy. Careful reading reveals some interesting facts.

Reliance on stocks and how that is bad is a common theme of those trying to prove privatization of retirement is a bad idea. The story, though, says the S&P 500 has had a total return of 4% since 2000. That contrasts to the historical 8%. That is probably an average annual return. The CPI Calculator says there’s been a 27% cost of living increase in that period. A time value of money calculator indicates that the 4% annual return would yield $48 over ten years. That comparison, stocks returning well above inflation, indicates the opposite of the point the AP is trying to make.

Then there is the common “baby boomers have not saved very effectively for retirement and are still retiring too early” meme. That contrasts with those stocks in 401(k) plans, the 15% who still have private sector pensions, and all of the other tax favored retirement investments.

The mortgage crisis and depreciated home values is also set as a crisis for baby boomers. “Nearly two in three people age 55 to 64 had a mortgage in 2007, with a median debt of $85,000.” The thing is, though, that folks nearing retirement often have targeted owning their house free and clear by the time they retire so they usually bought their house well before the bubble in values and don’t have much of a mortgage left to worry about. That $85k mortgage is probably on a house still worth well over $200k.

Another fear point is the assertion that “Some 51 percent of early boomer households, headed by those ages 55 to 64, face a retirement with lower living standards, according to a 2009 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.” Anyone who has done any retirement planning knows that many costs and expenses one encounters when active in the workforce will not be a part of the retirement lifestyle. Retirement is all about scaling back. The question is how much. Assertions like this possibly presume too much.

The cost of medical care is one to worry about, which is why it is a subject of a lot of legislative effort. The article says $187k to $213k will be needed for a 55 year old to be 90% certain of covering future medical costs supplementing Medicare.

These ‘never have enough’ stories focus on doom and gloom. They might better focus on how to retire on that average 401(k) balance of $150k they cite and how many folks are managing to do quite well, thank you, on much less. It is good to have high goals, but there is a place for reality as well.

Leave a Comment

The cost of error: rational irrationality

Trying to figure out why people believe what they do keeps philosophers and psychologists busy. Bryan Caplan picks up on some ideas that have surfaced in Bias, Assent, and the Psychological Plausibility of Rational Irrationality. The take is on a contrast between Cartesian and Spinozan theories about how people form perceptions and why they keep them and what it takes to change them.

We may have a cognitive bias towards assent, but it’s often our emotions that dissuade us from taking the effort to unbelieve. That’s why providing free counter-arguments so rarely changes the minds of true believers.

It sounds simple but the climate research brouhaha illustrates that sometimes the belief gets to to distorting reality. It is those who insist in human caused (e.g. CO2 based) global warming who are claiming that those who promote skepticism and accountability are the unbelievers and “deniers” and so forth. The difficulties in deciding which side is more rational can be determined by an objective look at behavior, but that often gets buries in an irrational rationality. i.e. irrational behavior often gets into a positive feedback loop and, if really pushed, can result in disastrous effect.

Meanwhile, the P&P (philosophers and psychiatrists) crowd have some interesting human behavior to ponder.

Leave a Comment

A true gift: 1964 compared to 2010

It seems that many views and opinions lack a proper reference. Without such a reference, the true meaning of some measure is hard to discern. The economy and personal finance seem especially removed from real world references and instead seem to often be perceived against dreams and fantasies. Mark Perry illustrates an example of a real world reference that makes what we have now seem to be truly a dream and a fantasy made real. The Magic and Miracle of the Marketplace: Christmas 1964 vs. 2010 – There’s No Comparison.

He links to the BLS inflation calculator and to the WishbookWeb where you can find Christmas Catalogs from 1933 to 1988. When looking at Sears console color TV’s in the 1964, the price is somewhat more than $5,000 in today’s dollars.

Bottom Line: For a consumer or household spending $750 in 1964, all they would have been able to afford was a console color TV from the Sears Christmas catalog. A consumer or household spending that same amount of inflation-adjusted dollars today ($5,300) would be able buy able to furnish their entire kitchen with 8 brand-new appliances (refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, range, washer, dryer, microwave and blender) and buy 9 state-of-the-art electronic items (laptop, GPS, camera, home theater, plasma HDTV, iPod Touch, Blu-ray player, 300-CD changer and a Tivo recorder). And of course, even a billionaire in 1964 wouldn’t have been able to purchase many of the items that even a teenager can afford today, e.g. laptop, GPS, digital camera.

So when you hear all the complaints about how great it was and what those evil corporations have done to us, the unemployment, and on and on, keep in mind that there is a lot to be thankful for due to the “magic of the marketplace.”

Leave a Comment

What’s fact?

WSJ takes up an example of the ‘fact finder’ who can’t tell what a fact is – but doesn’t care because its goal has little to do with its name.

PolitiFact’s decree is part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and “facts,” rather than differences of world view or principles. PolitiFact wants to define for everyone else what qualifies as a “fact,” though in political debates the facts are often legitimately in dispute.

Even the local newspaper gets into this game with its occasional ‘fact or fiction’ report on campaign dialog. The reports are often more interesting for what the reporter thinks is factual and what is not.

But the news media is not alone. One only has to look at the ‘net neutrality’ debate to see that. The matter of evil money is a big draw and evil money from big (evil) corporations is almost irresistible to many. With net neutrality supporters, it is AT&T and not FreePress and its ilk that are suspect. The Climate issue follows a similar pattern with those big evil oil companies corrupting money influence seen as culpable and not the big government research funds. These are only extreme examples. It is the details where things can really get interesting and patterns show more subtly.

What happens when reality meets fantasy is that a distortion is needed. That is the case the WSJ has noted.

Leave a Comment

The net neutrality case study, cont.

Rob Domanski has been watching the net neutrality debate and has a reasonable description of his take. First is a description of how Netflix’s Survival Depends on Net Neutrality…

Comcast, one of the nation’s largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs), decided to charge a new fee for companies that stream video at high bandwidth levels. This new fee puts online video companies like Netflix at a competitive disadvantage versus subscription-based Cable Television providers like Comcast.

That was the immediate stimulus for much of the fear used to promote the idea of net neutrality. As a story in ComputerWorld noted, the crux of the issue is a common technology cycle: one technology enables an idea and then another idea pushes it to its limits causing ‘crisis’ which requires innovation and new technologies to solve. The Netflix, Comcast, and L3 brouhaha is just this sort of thing as the I’net has allowed people to communicate in ways never before imagined. Netflix imagined, and implemented, its end of an idea whose requirements changed the game plan for those in line between Netflix and its customers. One story says Netflix, just one I’net vender, was taking up 70% of the communications resources during prime time. The growth from 0% to 70% usage of a communication company’s resources inside of a year or so presents significant challenges. What we see right now is the businesses involved trying to figure out how to meet those challenges.

Rob thinks we need to Re-Frame the Debate. The problem with his ‘re-framing’ lie in his assumptions.

The political debate over Net Neutrality consists of one side – the ISPs and giant telecoms – who want to get rid of Net Neutrality so that they can charge fees for accessing different types of sites, or block them altogether.

On the other side of the debate are small website owners who want to keep the internet neutral and a level playing field.

He says it isn’t a “battle between The People versus The Man” yet that is exactly the characterization the he suggests in describing the sides of the issue. But he does identify the basic value conflict:

The political issue is about whether or not the government should actually guarantee that the internet remain neutral through legislation.

And he identifies one of the major difficulties that some see as a reason to keep government out of it.

It seems to me that the F.C.C.’s latest Net Neutrality rules are just like others they’ve attempted in the past – hollow and merely symbolic.

What is missing in Rob’s comments is the end user. That end user is the engine that drives the whole mechanism. A small business on the web would not exist if an end user was not there as a customer. Comcast and other cable companies would have let the telephone companies keep the I’net access business to themselves if they didn’t think they could make money selling access via their plant. L3 would have a much smaller business if it only provided WAN services for big business and didn’t have all that end user traffic that Comcast gathers for them.

It is the end user that is trying to figure out whether to use their market muscle exercised by their choice about where and how to spend their money or whether it is their political choices that they are going to use to get what they want. This story has played out many times before. The latter choice usually fails. The former usually succeeds, often beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. But it isn’t a clear cut binary thing, it is a sliding scale and the real issue comes down to just where to place the marker between the two choices. That is the political ideology choice that is being hashed out now for this case.

Leave a Comment

Optimism is a source of strength

When a democratic public loses faith in the future – as France did in the 1930s, as Britain did in the 1970s and as too many Americans are doing today – it is something to correct promptly, not a reason to rejoice secretly. Optimism is a source of our strength.

Tony Blankley discusses the American miracle and what we need to do to keep it. In the recent time of great stress with the government trying to solve everyone’s ills, What Blankley notices was that “The American people feared the permanent loss of liberty more than they feared the temporary loss of their income or property.”

No other people in the world would have responded to economic danger by seeking more liberty and less government protection. No other people would have thought to themselves, “If I have to suffer economically in order not to steal from my grandchildren, so be it.”

So in this Christmas season, as many of us prepare to fall to our knees in thanks for the gift of our eternal optimism and salvation, let us also celebrate the continuing miracle of the American people’s abiding love of liberty – and acceptance of the sacrifices it will take to keep that liberty.

Merry Christmas, and, pray God, may He continue to bless America.

It is a gift to be cherished and maintained. We can keep it if only we will.

Leave a Comment

The net neutrality whack-a-mole

Net Neutrality is one of those nice labels that represents governmental control, top down control, over network resources that is typical of some issues in that every time it gets beat down, it shows up someplace else. The advocates know what is right and won’t let go of their dream. If one way doesn’t work, they’ll try another and then they try again. and again.

The ‘hidden agenda’ for net neutrality is unlimited speed and unconditional I’net access anywhere at minimal to no cost. Every other rationale provided is just an excuse for that desired agenda.

No competition is one such rationale. Free Speech another. Corporate controls over content another. All of these rationales for net neutrality have significant caveats and assumptions. Promoting them often relies on scare stories about something that might happen.

The fact that Comcast and Level3 were in a squabble about Netflix conveyance is an example sometimes brought up as a reason for net neutrality. In reality, what it shows is competitive struggles of competing adventures working to figure out how best to handle a particular customer need.

The lack of competition thing is where the speed issue is the hidden issue. There is all sorts of competition if maximum speed isn’t an issue. You can still purchase dial-up, for instance. It is only when you get to 5Mb/s that the competition leans out and that is rapidly succumbing to technological advances as both DSL and cell technologies improve to compete with the bandwidth heretofore offered only by cable.

As for the free speech thing – that ties in with the Wikileaks supporters’ ideologies. Net neutrality supporters should be more concerned about the U.N. efforts to censor I’net traffic that resulted from Wikileaks irresponsibility than from some I’net traffic carrier’s attempts to provide its customers a known quality of service.

Inhibiting any freedom has to come top down else there is always a sideways step. Promoting government I’net control in the guise of net neutrality eliminates any innovation that would bypass problems encountered in the services people seek by making it all illegal. If the pressure builds, then a black market forms. Let us hope it does not get to that.

Leave a Comment

The grass sometimes has trouble growing in the desert

Guy Benson says Angle’s Divided House Aided Her Fall. The idea is that “another major problem plagued Team Angle: Competing factions and internal power struggles.” It was an example of the ‘established elite’ trying to figure out what to do with the Tea Party and the grass roots. Angle was not strong enough to overcome the dissonance in Nevada on her side of the aisle.

While Benson thinks Reid ran an excellent campaign, others point out the amount of money he spent, collusion with the gaming industry and unions, the fact that the Hispanic vote put him over the top with promises of the Dream Act, and lax Nevada voting identification requirements.

It is the struggle of many independent minded individuals against an establishment that has deep roots. Some think the extension of the current tax levels and other events in the lame duck session indicate that, perhaps, there is an awareness of the need to tend the lawn before it turns to weeds and takes over the property.

Leave a Comment

Never had it so good: cheap Christmas

CNN Money says it’s the Cheapest Christmas ever (ht BrothersJudd). “The reasons for the plunging prices have to do with advances in technology, manufacturing, retailing, and the global economy.” The reality doesn’t faze many, though, who insist upon everything going downhill and everything getting more expensive. They may not realize the impact the prices have had on them.

And just because stuff is cheaper doesn’t mean our total bill will be less. We simply buy more of the cheap stuff. Plus, the really high-end stuff hasn’t fallen in price, and that’s always tops on anyone’s wish list.

What all this means is that the poor are better off than ever before and that the talk about “spreading the wealth” is happening – but in a capitalist way rather than the socialist way. You don’t have to forcibly take it from the ‘filthy rich’ in order to give it to those more needy. Those ‘filthy rich’ got that way by producing better product at less cost. So both the ‘filthy rich’ and the ‘more needy’ benefit.

It brings to mind the fable about the goose that laid the golden egg. Why do so many want to kill that goose?

Leave a Comment

Keying in on anonymity

One of the means by which some attempt to rationalize the wikileaks support efforts is to try to conflate them with civil disobedience and then elevate that activity to a moral righteousness. The Economist takes a look at The rights and wrongs of hacktivism to qualify this rationalization.

in a free society the moral footing for peaceful lawbreaking must be an individual’s readiness to take the consequences, argue in court and fight for a change in the law. Demonstrators therefore deserve protection only if they are identifiable.

Of course, the publication having the bias it does, there is a caveat so as to make both sides just as evil.

This applies to those attacking WikiLeaks too—a point American politicians calling for reprisals against Julian Assange’s outfit should note. Posses and vigilantes, online and off, mete out rough justice, at best. That is no substitute for the real thing.

As far as what is in evidence, there is no posse of vigilante committee out to wreak the havoc cautioned about. There are some folks who have expressed individual opinion, some businesses who have decided their interests lie elsewhere, and a rape accusation but these are not an extra-judicial action as some wikileaks apologists try to assert.

The immoral or perhaps illegal behavior is only one issue for debate. A more interesting one is that noticed in the column – anonymity. What wikileaks is all about is removing anonymity from selected targets. It does not consider itself one of those targets so it protects its own anonymity. Those who commit reprisals against supposed wikileaks enemies also depend upon a veil of anonymity to protect themselves. What they are saying is they the should not be held accountable for their actions. That does not bode well for a proper responsibility accountable to any standards. The name for that is anarchy.

Leave a Comment

Whither California?

Professor Hanson, of a California small farm family, wonders about what he sees, as if there are Two Californias.

During this unscientific experiment, three times a week I rode a bike on a 20-mile trip over various rural roads in southwestern Fresno County. I also drove my car over to the coast to work, on various routes through towns like San Joaquin, Mendota, and Firebaugh. And near my home I have been driving, shopping, and touring by intent the rather segregated and impoverished areas of Caruthers, Fowler, Laton, Orange Cove, Parlier, and Selma.

Most of what people know about California center on such things as beach babes and surfers, Silicon Valley, Universities, and natural wilderness. The other California is the one Hanson witnesses: one of a third world country invading the state from the inside as a cancer.

Here are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). …

On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these areas — which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing equipment — have largely shut down; their production has been shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself — from almonds to raisins — has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by half the number of farm workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards.

It appears that there are two Californias when it comes to government as well. “It is almost as if the more California regulates, the more it does not regulate. Its public employees prefer to go after misdemeanors in the upscale areas to justify our expensive oversight industry, while ignoring the felonies in the downtrodden areas”

Many of the illegal immigrants are scared silly about being returned to their homeland because of the violence, poverty, and corruption there, but they still condemn the values and culture of the nation where they seek refuge and proudly display flags and allegiance for their homeland. It brings to mind the adage about biting the hand that feeds you. One wonders how much of such biting California will take before it notices the damage.

Leave a Comment

Cassandra in college

Scott reviews the case of Paul Ehrlich in describing Uncommon Knowledge with Matt Ridley. Professor Ehrlich is perhaps the poster boy for the baby boomer chicken little Cassandras who forecast doom and gloom, real soon, for the entire planet based upon anything man touches.

The first case was world starvation predicted in 1968. Another is the famous 1980 ‘basket of commodities’ bet with Julian Simon. Ehrlich was guided by the academic who is now President Obama’s Science advisor but he lost the bet on all counts.

Credentialed intellectuals, too — actually, especially — illustrate Montaigne’s axiom: ‘Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.’” There is much more to the story, making it of current interest, as John Hinderaker noted in “Politicizing science.”

It is a form of hubris greatly exaggerating mankind’s importance on the planet, much less in the universe. It consistently comes up against reality but the proponents and advocates never seem to learn.

Leave a Comment

Logical consistency?

A couple of items highlight examples of inconsistency in logic and values. Neil Stevens starts on net neutrality and ends with

It simply makes no sense to foreclose nuclear plants as an option for power generation, while at the same time claiming concern about Carbon Dioxide emissions.

Dennis Prager deconstructs foul language and an irrational personal attack in wondering: Sorkin Called Sarah Palin an ‘Idiot’? . His point is that those who cannot discriminate, or refuse to discriminate, between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior have their own problems to resolve.

I return to the question: Does Sorkin really not see a difference between hunting an animal for food, torturing an animal, and murdering a human being — especially given the fact that he pays people to kill animals for his joy in eating them?

If he sees no difference, then it is he — not Sarah Palin — who best fits the description of her he gave in his column. The only other explanation would be that he so hates her that he will say anything, in order to insult her, even if he has to turn moral standards upside-down.

It does not seem that the higher order mental skills humans posses are considered very necessary by some. The do use language but reason, morality, ethics, and integrity seem to be rather far down the priority list.

Leave a Comment

Wikileaks in the real world

There are those, and it seems to be many, who grudgingly support Wikileaks because they have decided it will help roll back an oppressive and conspiratorial government. They give no concern to the ethics involved, the matter of who gave Wikileaks such a responsibility or how they will be held accountable.

Janet Daley identifies a core issue in this line and judges that WikiLeaks is delinquent and anti-democratic.

The fact that it consists virtually entirely of things that were said rather than things that were done has two kinds of significance. One is that private conversations, even when they are not at the level of the diplomatic communiqué, are generally considered to be no-go areas for journalists, because it is recognised that professional life of any kind would be virtually unsustainable without the possibility of confidential communication. The other is that a very different degree of importance attaches to what is said than to what is done. An indiscreet remark or observation is in a different league from a dishonest or disreputable act.

That seems to be a sensitivity in modern times: people are more offended and harmed by words than by deeds. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” has been turned on its head. Now it is all about the words, words that can be twisted and misconstrued in order to support or rationalize fantasies and desires. These days are filled with people who just know how evil or awful some government or organization might be and they will rationalize any effort that they can use to support their ‘knowledge.’

Accountability, responsibility, norms of procedure developed over centuries, and civility are tossed under the bus to further personal gratification. That is what Wikileaks is about. Sides are being chosen. Folks need to give a very careful consideration to the side they choose and the full implications of their choice.

Leave a Comment

The right way to go after transparency

As a contrast to the ethos of Wikileaks, Watts describes a more legitimate and ethical way to promote transparency. See A bill for climate data integrity: The Public Access to Historical Records Act. This is in response to the EPA and NASA being reluctant to release data that they have used for regulation or public propaganda.

“The goal is for the U.S. to have the best, most transparent historic temperature record in the world.”

Rather than steal the data, or purchase it from a poor private who is headed for a long time in Prison (and forgetting about promises for legal support), this effort is a scaling up of efforts made via legal processes (FOIA) to obtain transparency. All of those who think Wikileaks is appropriate or proper need to carefully compare and contrast to this effort – and then take a close look at their rationalizations.

Leave a Comment