Archive for June, 2012

It isn’t only in medicine: academia losing its roots

Dullar Mush got an alumni newsletter. UCLA Med School’s Sad Drift Into Pseudoscience was a feature.

“When your alumni magazine arrives with a cover story about your school being a “vegan campus” you just know it is going to be one of those issues.”

“You have to wonder how much longer UCLA will remain a world-class med school if debunked woo like this crap is currently being taught. Cripes, isn’t California suffering enough budgetary waste? “

Intellectual integrity is suffering in many fields in the academic world, it seems. Medicine is just one field where desires and wishes are swamping reason and reality. Climatology is another. Even physics is having its issues with people trying to explain cosmology or theory consolidation.

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Rose colored glasses don’t make solar cost effective

“I spent the afternoon crunching a few numbers and concluded, as suspected, that solar hot water systems are not “cost effective” and do not “provide an easy and low cost way to create hot water.” The calculations are simple, but the relevant data is often obscured, as we shall see.”

It doesn’t usually take much more than a few calculations and a bit of honesty to see why so called ‘alternative’ energy ideas often fail when it comes to economic viability. That sort of intellectual effort is what Peter Wilson did in Doing the Math on Solar Water Heaters

“When the EPA mentions in the quote above that solar water heaters can “reduce operating costs up to 90 percent,” it’s talking about Arizona, not New England. Massachusetts has around 2,600 hours of sunlight per year, which works out to 30% of the hours in a year. Efficient solar panels work on days with some cloud cover, but none work at night, which means that demand for showers in the morning will be met by back-up sources powered by natural gas or coal.”

“In short, we are comparing an $8,000 investment with savings of $55 on a $100 annual gas bill. Dividing the two numbers tells us that it would take 145 years to recoup the investment. It gets worse, however, because you have to calculate the cost of that $8,000 capital investment.”

In QST this month, a reader complained about a solar power article that noted that the cost of solar was higher than that of grid power. The reader’s example started with a 50% rebate and then proceeded to describe convoluted costing structures to enhance tax benefits in order to show a net cost for solar lower than that usually paid in the utility bill. If you only pay a part of the costs and transfer the majority of them to the public, claiming economic benefit is not very truthful.

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Regulatory burden, EPA, and the 9th

It seems the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals really earns its reputation for questionable decisions when it comes to environmental issues. Jonathan Alder describes the situation in Is the Ninth Circuit Due for Environmental Correction?.

“In the normal course of affairs, an SG brief recommending against cert is a likely indicator that the Supreme Court will deny certiorari. Yet that has not been the practice of late in environmental cases. The Supreme Court has taken quite a few environmental cases in which the federal government lost below but nonetheless urged the Court to take pass, including Entergy, Coeur Alaska, Monstanto v. Geerston Farms, and Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy. It’s almost as if the Roberts Court does not trust the judgment of the SG’s office as to whether environmental cases are cert worthy.”

Alder quotes from a dissenting opinion of one of the 9th circuit judges that identifies some of the problems.

“Oregon political leaders have good reason to be concerned about the impact of our rulings on logging. Decades of court injunctions already have battered the state’s timber industry, once a dominant employer that paid excellent wages. In the 1970s and 1980s, the wood product industry employed more than 70,000 Oregonians and paid 30 percent more than the state average wage. Now, the industry employs 25,000 people and pays the state average wage. Josh Lehner, Historical Look at Oregon’s Wood Product Industry, Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, Jan. 23, 2012, available at . Requiring millions of burdensome new permits will only accelerate the decline.”

“No legislature or regulatory agency would enact sweeping rules that create such economic chaos, shutter entire industries, and cause thousands of people to lose their jobs. That is because the legislative and executive branches are directly accountable to the people through elections, and its members know they would be removed swiftly from office were they to enact such rules.”

The particular case here is overturning 40 years of existing practice by the EPA deciding that permits are needed for storm water runoff from timber roads. That is exactly the sort of thing that enhances the ‘anti-business’ image of the current administration. Not only are major industries being required to spend significant effort in obtaining permits, they also need to expend significant sums in defending their traditional means of doing business. The lumber companies have a vested interest in healthy forests but, to listen to the current administration, you’d not think so.

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Dealing with reality: marriage and family sociology

It looks like the ad hominem got so bad that William Saletan had to suggest “Don’t bury Mark Regnerus’ study of gay parents. Learn what it can teach the left and right.

“That’s what four of the nation’s leading gay-rights groups—the Human Rights Campaign, the Family Equality Council, Freedom to Marry, and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation —declared in a joint statement this week. Flanked by a mob of bloggers, they’re out to attack Regnerus’ motives, destroy his credibility, and banish his study from the scientific record. Even Slate contributor E.J. Graff says “Slate‘s editors should be ashamed” for publishing Regnerus’ “dangerous propaganda.”

Wow. Regnerus’ paper certainly has flaws. But before we all go get our stones, pitchforks, and kerosene, may I suggest an alternative? Trust science. Don’t bury this study. Embrace it. The evidence Regnerus collected can help all of us rethink our ideas about sexuality and marriage. It can enlighten the right as well as the left. In fact, it’s already doing that.”

In the effort to find flaws, it was noted that the sample of gay parenting families was extremely small. Saletan takes efforts to deal with the small sample size as a “flaw” and uses that as a means to steer the subject to family stability to avoid the ‘touchy subject’. The small sample size is worth noting. What it is saying is that the phenomena under study is nearly insignificant in practice. This contrasts with the outrage and and political activity of the relevant interest groups. Another factor is that the topic under study is subject to many variables and many of those are rather ambiguous. That is expected in any sociology study.

The appeal to civility and rational, reality based discourse is one worth noting. Perhaps of more immediate significance, compared to family stability, is the reaction to studies of the sort Saletan describes. That sort of behavior is highly indicative of bias and emotional denial and dealing with those issues in a forthright manner is necessary before anything can be learned.

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Nixon v Holder?

Woodward and Bernstein recently published an effort to justify their Watergate reporting. Conrad Black takes them on and provides an interesting contrast to the effort to uncover the AG Holder connections to Fast and Furious. See Nixon Emerges a Victor in ‘War on History’ Waged in the Wake of Watergate on what that scandal was really about.

“The facts of Watergate have been wildly exaggerated. Neither in financing techniques nor in the gamesmanship with the other side was the Republican campaign of 1972 particularly unusual. And it was puritanical compared with what appears to have been the outright theft of the 1960 election for Kennedy over Nixon by Chicago’s Mayor Daley and Lyndon Johnson.”

“The congressional treatment of Nixon was an unmitigated outrage. The president’s counsel, John Dean, a slippery weasel who was up to his eyebrows in unauthorized illegal practices, made a plea-bargain deal and then gave perjured evidence against his own client, which would have been completely inadmissible in a law court. The House Judiciary Committee was a mockery. Its counsel, John Doar, a foaming-at-the-mouth partisan on all fours with Bradlee-Woodstein, produced five counts of impeachment, of which four were farcical on a Kafkaesque scale:”

Of course, the complaints against Holder are being treated as if they are farcical by those who defend him, too. NBS, after more than a year, finally reported on Fast and Furious. There is a contrast. Fast and Furious was international and resulted in deaths. Watergate was local and ‘only’ thievery. The response to these two scandals, both in the reaction of the perpetrators and in the reporting by the MSM stands as a stark contrast.

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Education Bubble: more feel good costs coming home to roost

Another government do-good effort making a mess of things. The idea is that a college education is good. So government programs were created to help students pay for a college education. That drove up demand and that meant colleges expanded and the cost of the college education went up. Now the bill comes due much as it did a few years ago when a similar process involving housing came to a head. Anthony Davies and James Harrigan have a rundown on this Economic Intelligence at US News.

“Were bankers greedy? Sure, but that wasn’t the problem. Bankers were just as greedy before the bubble. The difference is that, before the bubble, bankers were also cautious. Profit appealed to their greed. Risk appealed to their caution. The balancing forces of greed and caution—profit and risk—are what cause a free market to produce the right amount of loans. What changed was that government meddling removed caution by separating loan profits from loan risks. The government forced taxpayers to shoulder mortgage risks while allowing banks to keep mortgage profits.

Government created the conditions for wholesale failure. And failure ensued.”

What has people worried is that new college graduates come into a weak labor market with a significant debt burden. This burden cannot be discharged by bankruptcy and the asset behind it is not something one can sell and let go. Instead of the usual process of graduate from school, get a job, get married and buy a house, new college graduates are having difficulties leveraging their education into gainful employment and already have a ‘new house’ sized debt burden.

“The simple fact of the matter should be obvious by now: Government created this mess, in both instances, by forcing the market to provide loans it would not have granted otherwise. As is its custom, government did by force what no private lender would have ever done by choice. This is the breeding ground for bubbles, and this one will burst just as they all do.”

Right now, the Education Bubble is a worry. It hasn’t burst … yet. People do see the situation getting ready to burst the seams, Some are trying to do something to ease the pressure and correct the underlying problem. Others are not. That is the political choice that faces the population. Feel good or deal with reality: all too often the pressure is towards the current Greece and California methods of ‘feel good’ and that does not bode well.

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Recall for misconduct?

CBS News exit polling indicates that Early Wisconsin recall exit polls: 60 percent say recalls are only for official misconduct. Only about a quarter of those voting in Wisconsin thought that recall elections were suitable for any reason.

While many in the public sector unions and some of their sympathixers may have thought that Governor Walker was indeed a purveyor of official misconduct, the fact remains that the actions that stimulated the recall election were a matter of legislation that resulted from proper and usual action. The ‘official misconduct’ might better be considered by the Democrat legislators who abandoned their duty in an attempt to filibuster passage of matters they opposed.

The exit polling also suggested that the state efforts to limit the influence of public sector unions had a slim majority of support. There was better support for the idea that government should generally have a more limited role when it comes to solving problems.

Limbaugh’s recent commentary regarding a pre-election sit-down with union supporters and their ideological fixation, the viral video about a slap that the Democrat candidate got after his concession speech, and the Walker death threats after the election all give credence to the overwhelming emotional involvement and investment in the recall effort. That investment to such a degree that reality and integrity are thrown by the board is what threatens society more than anything else.

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swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

It seems that professor Dershowitz has irritated the Trayvon Martin prosecutor. That is evident from a response to his criticisms that is so typical these days from people who do not have reality, the whole truth, on their side.

“proceeded to engage in a 40 minute rant, during which she threatened to sue Harvard Law School, to try to get me disciplined by the Bar Association and to file charges against me for libel and slander. … She persisted in her nonstop whining, claiming that she is prohibited from responding to my attacks by the rules of professional responsibility—without mentioning that she has repeatedly held her own press conferences and made public statements throughout her career.

Her beef was that I criticized her for filing a misleading affidavit that willfully omitted all information about the injuries Zimmerman had sustained during the “struggle” it described. She denied that she had any obligation to include in the affidavit truthful material that was favorable to the defense. She insisted that she is entitled to submit what, in effect, were half truths in an affidavit of probable cause, so long as she subsequently provides the defense with exculpatory evidence. She should go back to law school, where she will learn that it is never appropriate to submit an affidavit that contains a half truth, because a half truth is regarded by the law as a lie, and anyone who submits an affidavit swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

This is similar to what was just witnessed in Wisconsin with a recall election based solely on irritation at having lost the regular election and wanting to undo it. It is also an example of the abuse of prosecutorial discretion where people are harassed with criminal complaints if they irritate the wrong public officials.

“If Angela Corey doesn’t like the way freedom of expression operates in the United States, there are plenty of countries where truthful criticism of prosecutors and other government officials result in disbarment, defamation suits and even criminal charges. We do not want to become such a country.”

There are many who think that we have travelled too far down this road. As illustrated in Wisconsin last night, they are becoming worried enough to speak out, organize. and make their voice heard at the ballot box.

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Squeeky wheel shows effect of grease: perceptions

There was a poll ….

“At the Atlantic, Garance Franke-Ruta notes Gallup polls that indicate most Americans think around a quarter of our population is gay. The mean is 24.6%, up from 21.7% just eight years ago. An astonishing 35% believe that more than one-quarter of all people are homosexuals. In fact, the number is around two to three percent. So the average poll respondent is off by 1,000%.

My interest here is not the specific topic of homosexuality, but rather the fact that people’s perceptions are so wildly at odds with reality. How on Earth can the average American believe that one-quarter of the men and women he sees every day are gay?”

John takes up the idea Reality: No Match for Television. He notes that it is not only the TV sitcoms that show an unreal bias but also that “In recent years, news coverage of gay-related issues has been intense.” A comparison to a similar bias comes to mind:

“Some years ago, I saw survey data on how likely Americans believe they are to be murdered. The result was that in general, people vastly overestimate the likelihood of violent death. No doubt the reasons are similar to why they overestimate the incidence of homosexuality.”

What makes these sorts of misperceptions puzzling is that they don’t pass the implications test. That is, look around you and in your personal sphere for evidence of these perceptions. Like with a lot of these political or ideological allegations, the only way they can be rationalized with experience is to believe that it is ‘the other guy’ rather than one’s own circle where a quarter of the people are homosexual or where murder is common or whatever. The implication of that, of course, is that you and your circle don’t live in the real world where all these phenomena are supposed to exist. Is that really how you want to label yourself?

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Observing the major media: Troubling

As the skepticism, or perhaps cynicism, grows concerning the major media, attention becomes focused on just what behaviors are behind it. Olshaker provides an example claiming that the Washington Post Tougher on Romney than Hezb’allah Killer of 241 Marines

“It’s no accident the Post unveiled the “bully” narrative when they did. The earlier storyline — that Romney is a weak candidate, fails to connect with voters, and is universally disliked — became difficult to sustain any longer when the man nobody liked won the most votes. Another strategy taking shape, not long ago considered unthinkable, is revealed in a recent Post column asking whether Romney’s religion is “fair game.” The question itself hints that there is something objectionable in Mormonism that reasonable people might find to be a reason not to vote for Romney. Prepare for further, increasingly desperate attacks, as Romney continues to receive more negative coverage than mass-murdering terrorists.”

People are taking note of how things like Bush’s DUI or the claim that Walker had an illegitimate child just happen to show up in papers a day or two before elections; the pattern of adjectives often seen in headlines with comparison and contrast between political affiliation; and the focus of news stories. Olshaker’s story illustrates this with careful observation.

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