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Propaganda Reversing the Impression of Economic Conclusions

On the topic of school choice, Scott Alexander appears to have spotted an example of the way in which the mainstream media phrases research in such a way as to create a false, left-wing impression of the news.  The relevant New York Times headline is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It,” but looking at the data, Alexander suggests:

A more accurate way to summarize this graph is “About twice as many economists believe a voucher system would improve education as believe that it wouldn’t.”

By leaving it at “only a third of economists support vouchers”, the article implies that there is an economic consensus against the policy. Heck, it more than implies it – its title is “Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It”. But its own source suggests that, of economists who have an opinion, a large majority are pro-voucher.

In a separate post, Alexander elaborates on why he believes the Times report is skewed, but the most persuasive evidence can be found by going to the Times’s source and reading the comments of the surveyed economists.  Here’s David Autor of MIT, who was marked down as “disagreeing” that school choice would produce “a higher quality [of] education” (rating his confidence at 6 of 10) (emphasis added):

Some students would benefit and the average effect might indeed be positive. But some students would surely be harmed.

By this standard, improvement only counts if universal; indeed, that appears to be the complaint of many “disagreers,” as well as some “uncertains.”  Here’s Ray Fair of Yale, who is level-10 confident in his uncertainty:

I think the majority of public school students would be better off, but certainly not all.

Wondering how much of all expert opinion is really predicated on a priori conclusions, I can’t resist juxtaposing this with progressives’ approach to the minimum wage, regarding which they acknowledge some percentage of people will be worse off but assume the net effect will be positive.

Experts’ differing opinions are, of course, legitimate, but spinning them to create a false impression of consensus isn’t news; it’s propaganda.

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Needing a Judge to Tell Us the Obvious

A reminder is worthwhile now and then that we’ve reached the point at which we need court rulings on things like this:

Children’s birth certificates must be linked to biological parentage, the Arkansas Supreme Court has said in a ruling that involved the federal redefinition of marriage to recognize same-sex unions.

“It does not violate equal protection to acknowledge basic biological truths,” Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Judge Jo Hart wrote in the Dec. 8 decision.

Let’s just say that I’m not optimistic about the prospects for a nation that won’t acknowledge the truth or importance of biological parenthood.  Hopefully reasonable judges will hold the line until the rest of us come to our senses.

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Unlike the Tea Party, the EPA Is a Government Agency

By now, the Trump transition team has promised that it has “properly counseled” the staffer who asked for names of people involved in certain of the Environmental Protection Agency’s activities, but it remains a telling incident:

The official said questions about professional society memberships and websites that staff at the Energy Department’s national laboratories maintain or contribute to could raise questions about Trump’s commitment to scientific independence – a fundamental tenet at the agency. …

Democrats have called the questionnaire a modern-day political witch hunt that could have a chilling impact on federal workers.

Gee.  If anything, that sounds less aggressive and presumptuous than the Obama administration’s treatment of Tea Party groups in the run-up to his reelection campaign.  The main difference: Those were private citizens being harassed by the IRS on the president’s behalf.  If there’s any harassment with the EPA request, it’s the people’s elected president harassing out-of-control agencies.  That’s kind of how representative democracy ought to work.

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Breaking News: Men and Women Are Different

File this under “researchers rediscover the obvious”:

There are chemical differences in how male and female brains regulate aggression in response to stress, Georgia State University scientists suggest. …

In a study of hamsters, the research team found serotonin promotes and AVP inhibits aggression and dominance in females. The reverse effect was found in males, with AVP promoting and serotonin inhibiting aggression and dominance. The serotonin reuptake inhibitor fluoxetine, one of the most prescribed drugs for psychiatric disorders, was also found to increase aggression in females while inhibiting it in males.

Inasmuch as I lack specific expertise on these hormones’ effect on the body, take this as an amateur summary for the purpose of illustration, but if I’m understanding the implications correctly, when a chemical transmitting information throughout the body increases, women become more aggressive and men become less aggressive, and when a chemical pushing blood throughout the body (preparing it for action), men become more aggressive and women become less aggressive.

To take the amateur generalization a bit further, when new information is flying, a man will step back and take it in then, when the brain and body send the muscles the signal that it’s time to act, the man will be less open to instruction and feel more urge to give it.  Women, presumably, would generally react in the opposite way.

Imagine a nuclear family (husband, wife, and children) facing some science-fiction calamity.  As the initial sparks fly, the husband will want to take in information while being less inclined to assert his will, while the wife will be more-immediately inclined to dominate.  Asks he, “What’s going on here?”; commands she, “Let’s get out of here.”  As the situation focuses on some particular threat — zombies, because they’re fun — and both switch from information transmission to action, the husband (generally larger and stronger) will tend to begin issuing the commands, while the wife will become more amenable to accepting them.

Whether this conclusion about behavior accurately reflects the ways in which men and women react to the same chemical processes is incidental; the opposite could be the case without affecting the underlying lesson.  The key point is that those of different sexes will respond to stimuli in different ways.  Like male chauvinists before them, feminists will insist that one or the other is objectively better, but reasonable people should understand that each is better under different circumstances.  That is to say that they are complementary, and fundamental units of social organization (i.e., families) will generally do better with both.

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The Real Cure for “Climate Change”: Technological Advancement

Here’s the sort of news (via Instapundit) that keeps a lot of us skeptical of efforts to use warnings about “global warming,” “global cooling,” or “climate change” as justification for radical changes to our economy and society:

In a new twist to waste-to-fuel technology, scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed an electrochemical process that uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol. Their finding, which involves nanofabrication and catalysis science, was serendipitous.

Sure, this is a long way from techniques for capturing atmospheric carbon; the only application mentioned in the article is the conversion of excess energy from periodic energy sources (like solar and wind) for storage.  But in a world in which alarmists declare that it’s already too late to avoid the harmful effects of human activity in the past, any action taken that slows the economy in the name of the environment will inevitably restrict research and development that may — serendipitously — solve the very problems about which we’re being warned.

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The Education That $62,000 per Year Buys You

For the low, low price of $62,046, your child can attend Brown University to learn crucial facts of life, like this:

By putting menstrual products in women’s, men’s and gender-inclusive bathrooms, Nguyen’s campaign highlights an often-ignored fact: Not all people who menstruate are women. “We wanted to set a tone of trans-inclusivity, and not forget that they’re an important part of the population,” he says.

In a fantastic two-fer, Newsweek proves the quality of its reporting by labeling as “fact” the absurdity that “not all people who menstruate are women.”

On the bright side, now that Brown students have resolved the pressing problem that low-income Ivy League male students who menstruate cannot afford, umm, “feminine hygiene products,” we can conclude that Western Civilization has reached its intellectually menopausal phase.

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Climate Change as an Excuse to Turn Government Against the People

Kevin Mooney has picked up, for The Daily Signal, the story about an open-records-related lawsuit against Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.  In brief, Kilmartin’s office has signed an agreement to work with other attorneys general and environmental activists to target companies and organizations on the other side of public debate about climate change and related public policy, with a further agreement to keep the larger agreement and correspondence secret.  One problem with that:

If Kilmartin and the other attorneys general prevail in the deal to keep select details secret, the ordinary citizen will be the loser, Chris Horner, a leading critic of climate change orthodoxy, said.

“It will mean that they can create privilege for what are otherwise public records, even when shared with ideological activists and donors, so long as everyone who wants to keep their scheming secret agrees in advance,” Horner told The Daily Signal.

That’s not the only way for government officials to keep things secret.  I’ve been writing about the efforts of the Employee Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner to withhold from me the total amount of pension promises to which the state is committed, efforts in which the attorney general’s office is now involved.  In that case, the state government is making the ludicrous claim that, because a private actuary has the data, might have to perform a simple calculation, and might charge some price to produce the results, getting it would implicitly be an “undue burden,” thus creating an exemption from the law.  That is, even if the costs would be small and the people requesting the information were willing to pay the fees, public agencies do not have to release public information as long as they use an outside company to process it.

With that massive loophole in mind, turn to an essay from May by Hans Von Spakovsky and Tiger Joyce.  As part of this very same effort of state attorneys general to go after political opponents in the name of climate change alarmism:

Some state attorneys general are hiring profit-seeking, private-sector personal-injury lawyers to do their legal dirty work. Moreover, any contingency fees collected by these lawyers through settlements arising from these cases could be used, in part, to fund the campaigns of allied politicians who embrace the “one, true belief” of man-made global warming.

Unfortunately, the Department of Attorney General does not appear to be included in Rhode Island’s transparency portal, so there’s no immediate way to dig into Kilmartin’s expenditures with private firms, but even if the state has not yet reached the point of paying hired bounty hunters to track down those lawless climate change deniers, we can certainly include this whole corrupt effort on the list of ways in which government at the state and national levels has left the road along which the people can safely feel as if they are legitimately governed.

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The Clinton Pay-to-Play and RI’s Mandatory Vaccine

Sarah Westwood sketches in some of the details of what many see as the pay-to-play scheme involving the overlapping activities of the Clinton Foundation and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (via Stephen Green):

The confusing structure can make tracing the precise destination of donations to the foundation a difficult task. However, donor records show major pharmaceutical firms — including Pfizer, Merck & Co., and Sanofi — have written generous checks to the Clinton Foundation. …

During Clinton’s first year at the agency, Merck lobbied the State Department to ease regulations restricting the distribution of its drugs “in certain Latin American markets,” according to lobbying disclosure forms from 2009. That placed the drug company’s international interests squarely on Clinton’s desk. …

As a senator, Clinton had reportedly written a letter urging the Department of Health and Human Services to approve Merck’s human papillomavirus vaccine in 2005.

By 2011, under her purview at the State Department, the U.S. government had teamed up with Merck to provide that same HPV vaccine to women in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative was set to cost $75 million.

Merck, of course, is the company that produces Gardasil, the vaccine for HPV (which cannot be transmitted in any ordinary school activity) that the state of Rhode Island has mandated for all girls and boys entering seventh grade in a public or private school and for which the state’s Dept. of Health is actively advertising with mailers and robocalls.

Like Hillary Clinton’s misdeeds, however, these connections and the strange enthusiasm of government officials for specific drugs that push the boundaries of their purview are not high on the list of mainstream journalists.  We all might chuckle that the federal government has apparently been pushing dental floss for over 30 years without any scientific basis (but much corporate enthusiasm, no doubt), but it isn’t enough simply to shrug and assume that this is how things work.  It shouldn’t be.

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When Government Secretly Coordinate, That’s a Conspiracy

There’s a certain irony, here.  Rhode Island’s far-left Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse is leading the charge to criminalize research and expression of views that don’t fit his extreme ideological and political view and a gang of thuggish attorney generals have been coordinating legal attacks on fossil-fuel companies and conservative think tanks on the claim that they’re engaged in an anti-environmentalist conspiracy, and yet the attorneys general are hiding their coordination from the public.

A press release from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (for which I work) notes its participation in an effort to ensure a little bit of transparency into this actual conspiracy:

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) announced that it assisted a national nonprofit organization in a lawsuit, filed today, demanding that the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General (OAG) release documents they have refused to make public. The legal complaint calls for the release of documents related to AG’s United for Clean Power, a group comprised of politically-motivated AGs from about a dozen states, including Rhode Island, who have secretly teamed up with anti-fossil fuel activists to investigate dozens of organizations that have exercised their free speech by challenging the global warming policy agenda. …

In a series of April emails obtained by E & E Legal, the RI OAG consented to sign-on to an “agreement” among the larger AG cabal that is colluding to investigate if RICO statutes may have been violated. However, the Rhode Island AG now refuses to make public the group’s ‘Secrecy Pact’ documents related to that taxpayer funded activity.

That is, the attorney general will not release the terms of his office’s agreement or even the text of the documents pledging to keep that agreement hidden.

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What’s Really In Your Best Interests? Aimee Gardiner On The No HPV Mandate Movement

On this episode of “What’s Really In Your Best Interest?” I interview Aimee Gardiner, director of Rhode Islanders Against Mandated HPV Vaccinations, on the movement against the HPV Mandate in the Ocean State. Rhode Island parents deserve the freedom to make private family choices without government involvement. The mandate on the HPV vaccine for Rhode Island students is an important and symbolic violation of our rights.

Recently, the RI DOH undertook a marketing campaign directed at the children of our state. Do you think this is a proper use of taxpayer dollars? The government should include parents in the discussion when dealing with minors, not bypassing our families! This is a very disturbing trend. The #NOHPVmandateRI movement stands to reverse the HPV vaccine mandate in RI. Please watch the new videos of our interview now.

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Now for Something Completely Different: Quantum Biology

This interesting article by Martha Henriques on the possibility that quantum physics might play a role in the ways in which living organisms interact with their environment is of the scientific genre wherein everybody seems surprised at something that shouldn’t be surprising at all.

Whether one believes that reality was designed in a matter of days by a purposeful God, with humanity as its focus, or that a some fundamental physical rules set in motion a universal evolution of which living organisms are the most developed (and known) part, there’s no surprise, here.  If God implemented quantum physics, one would expect it to serve the rest of his creation.  If life developed through a long process of evolution, one might reasonably expect organisms that could take advantage of quantum interactions to have an evolutionary advantage.

The one saving grace is that these truly bizarre quantum behaviours don’t seem to have much of an impact on the macroscopic world as we know it, where “classical” physics rules the roost. …

Now that reassuring wisdom is starting to fall apart. Quantum processes may occur not quite so far from our ordinary world as we once thought. Quite the opposite: they might be at work behind some very familiar processes, from the photosynthesis that powers plants – and ultimately feeds us all – to the familiar sight of birds on their seasonal migrations. Quantum physics might even play a role in our sense of smell.

In fact, quantum effects could be something that nature has recruited into its battery of tools to make life work better, and to make our bodies into smoother machines. It’s even possible that we can do more with help from the strange quantum world than we could without it.

To the extent that scientists (as distinct from those who just write about science) really do find these things surprising rather than just exciting and intriguing as a matter of new discovery, it may be an indication that they’re approaching physics with a faulty framework — what I’d actually say is most accurately described as a faulty metaphor.  From my perspective, the basic missing piece is an allowance for a spiritual dimension, by which I mean a plane in which intentionality and perspective exist apart from the materials on which they act, but pursuing that suggestion would bring me to depths beyond my intentions for this post when I set it in motion.

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