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Pay No Attention to the Consequence Behind the Curtain

Felix Fernandes recently posted a video from Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in which the host is debating a DNC advisor about federal transgender guidance for schools across the country.  The short clip is definitely worth watching in full:

The most glaring point of interest is the extremity of the left-wing position:  a simple statement of belief about your sex can change your sex.  The only objective consideration that the DNC advisor will entertain is the fact that a person in front of you is, at this moment, telling you that he/she is a woman/man.  Plainly put, this is an elevation of subjective feeling over any tangible reality.

Perhaps more important in the long term, though, is the guy’s response when Carlson takes the obvious step of pointing out the consequences when verifiable biology is made immaterial in the face of personal assertions.  Can I proclaim the same about my race?  Answer: No.  What happens if I apply for loans, scholarships, sports teams, et cetera, dedicated to those whose biology is different?  Answer: That’s an irrelevant question.

Carlson’s interlocutor just won’t acknowledge the validity of contrary claims — claims so irrefutable that they would have to be the basis of any logical consideration.  Instead, he breaks out the totalitarian catch phrases of the Left that bully people into submission, even having the audacity to charge Carlson with pseudoscience for asking how it all relates to biology.

To the extent that progressives are able to pull our society along in this emperor-has-no-genitals delusion, we’re signaling a willingness to gamble our entire civilization on the premise that the entire universe is a flexible social construct.  A much healthier path is simply to note that people who express such views are plainly insane.  They’ve already ruled out debate and common ground, so the wise choice is to side with reality.

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Leonardo’s Eye in Modern Times

Walter Isaacson’s musings on the interests and methods of Leonardo da Vinci in the Wall Street Journal give the impression that da Vinci’s style might be difficult to replicate in modern times:

Leonardo knew that true observation requires not only the discipline of looking very closely at something but also the patience to process observations and patterns. While painting “The Last Supper,” he would sometimes stare at the work for an hour, finally make one small stroke, and then leave. He told the duke of Milan that creativity requires time and patience. “Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work least,” he explained, “for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterwards give form.”

To be sure, such a mindset has always been easier for those of means and those with fewer other responsibilities.  It seems self evident, however, that an era in which entertainment was sparse and labor and living generally were more tedious, the mind had more opportunity to wander.  Of course, nothing stops us, these days, from taking the time to observe and think, but there are so many distractions.

Isaacson goes in a different direction, toward professional focus:

Today we live in a world that encourages specialization, whether we are students, scholars, workers or professionals. We also tend to exalt training in technology and engineering, believing that the jobs of the future will go to those who can code and build rather than those who can be creative.

About this point, I’m not so sure.  After all, we are talking about Leonardo da Vinci, a singular man in history, and there are surely plenty of people with the inclination and smarts to pursue diverse interests.  Perhaps the bigger challenge is that “Leonardo’s passion was to know everything there was to know about everything that could be known” was a more feasible goal in his day.  There is so much more to know, these days; da Vinci’s waves of brilliance more readily crashed against the rocks of the unknown.

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URI Honors Colloquium’s Narrow Explication of Everything

The graphic accompanying the Web page for this year’s honors colloquium at the University of Rhode Island appears to be ironic.  It’s a sketch of a star with a face faded into it, all superimposed on a field of stars.  Given that the title of the colloquium is “Origins: Life, the Universe and Everything,” one might assume the speeches would include some discussion of philosophy or even theology, but the list of presentations would seem to suggest otherwise.  (An email to one of the coordinators for confirmation of this observation went without response.)

Basically, all 10 speakers are concerned with science of one form or another, which is fine as far as it goes, but it raises the question of what the underlying philosophy of the colloquium is.  The fact that there must be such a philosophy implied can be seen in the advertisement that the speakers will help “to shed light on our current best understanding of humanity’s place in the cosmos.”  Whatever useful information scientists might provide, that one is well outside of their purview.

Indeed, the insinuation that science can answer such questions seems like an attempt to smuggle in the academic elite’s popular variation of nihilistically tinged materialism.  The extent to which scientists can tell us our “place in the cosmos” is precisely the extent to which they can do the same concerning rocks or elements.  That is, they must first reduce us to mere things.

Worse, an institution that presumes to take up a topic such as the origins of everything without providing students some philosophical discourse as to (arguably) the most important question in their lives — not what or how, but why — does them a tremendous disservice.  Even those who won’t attend such colloquiums will pick up the institutional message that this critical question for self-exploration and human development is unimportant.

That gets to a core reason I send my children to Catholic schools, and in keeping with my theme of today, it represents a disappointing missed opportunity.

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Want Cancer Progress, Keep Progressive Government Out of It

Allysia Finley recently wrote a fascinating interview article for the Wall Street Journal with cancer researcher Carl June about a new strategy for curing cancer.  The conversation delves into the power of market forces and the undue burdens of regulation.

He’s also confident that economic competition will spur innovation. The University of Pennsylvania has licensed its CAR T-cell treatment to Novartis, and other pharmaceutical and biotech companies are racing for their own cures. “There are at least 40 companies right now making CAR T-cells . . . and they are incentivized to make it more cheaply,” he says. “The rate of innovation is so fast, patent life is going to be irrelevant for T-cells because it will be like your phone. Every two or three years, you buy a new phone because it’s better even though the patent hasn’t gone out.”

Regulators can’t possibly keep up with the rate of technological change and, beyond the likelihood that incumbent players will capture them in order to hinder competition, that gives them incentive to hold innovation back to a rate that they can tolerate.  As June makes clear, the innovation and competition are more effective at regulation of products and prices than a handful of bureaucrats with their own incentive structures could be.

That was one of my central concerns when ObamaCare came online — that the anti-corporate, anti-profit Left, if allowed to dominate health care, would freeze our advances.  In short, if you really want progress in some area of society, your best bet is to keep the progressives out of it.

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In Pursuit of Happiness

Yesterday’s Newport Daily News had on its front page an AP article about research into how best to translate new money into happiness.  The sugar fix, so to speak, of a shopping spree doesn’t do it; rather, the key is to invest it in one’s own time:

“Money can buy happiness if you spend it right,” said University of British Columbia psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn, co-author of a study in Monday’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The right way is paying someone else to do the time-consuming drudge work that you don’t like, said study lead author Ashley Whillans at the Harvard Business School.  When people do that, they report feeling greater life satisfaction in general and happier that day.  But when they buy material objects, it tends not to bring people the happiness they expect, she said.

To some extent, this is just a description of how human economics work.  A person labors toward his or her own greater happiness and satisfaction, and that in large part entails leaving behind work that he or she is happy to hand off to somebody for whom the money is currently of greater need than the time or who enjoys the work or who has found a more-efficient way to accomplish it.

Such findings seem to me to suggest a benefit of the “gig economy,” in which people use technology to piece together methods of freelance.  Consider:

… if anything, the data suggested that people with less money were able to get a bigger happiness boost from time-saving purchases than those with more…

Yet, only 28 percent of the people surveyed spent money to save time, an average of $148 per month.

The small percentage may be a function of our consumer society, which constantly places objects for purchase before us, and we’re not adequately trained to figure out our own personal balance of time, money, and enjoyment.  More to the point, though, it’s just easier to buy something than to hire somebody.

That’s where the gig economy could fill a gap, if it became easy and familiar simply to hire others for one-off tasks quickly and easily, more people would do it… and be happier.

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“Collusion” Among Newspapers, Researchers, and “the Resistance”

This is perhaps a minor thing, and it’s certainly a little outside of my usual scope, here, but being a language guy, I found it to encapsulate the bias that many of us see in the news media.  This is from text by the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker that appears as a brief sidebar in today’s Providence Journal.  The Projo gave it the online headline, “White House blames Obama for failing to stop Russia collusion“:

The White House blamed the Obama administration Sunday for failing to tackle possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, sticking with a new strategy to fault President Donald Trump’s predecessor for an issue currently facing the president himself as part of a widening FBI probe.

Either Parker and the Projo’s online headline writer are attempting to deceive readers or they don’t know what “collusion” means.  They use the word to mean, broadly, Russian interference or meddling in the election, but it actually requires some sort of agreement, in this case between somebody in the Trump campaign and the Russian government.  Even with all of the illegal leaks newspapers have published in the last however-many months, we’ve seen no evidence of collusion, and yet journalists are using that mere allegation as the characterization of the whole “widening FBI probe.”

This sort of peep-hole into the thinking and decisions of people who claim to be objective investigators gives an example of why so many of us are suspicious of all such claims.  Consider the legislation that looks likely to become law this year to shield researchers in state institutions of higher education from public records requests.

Maybe there’s an argument to be made for the transparency exception on more procedural grounds — if serious scientists are avoiding employment in state institutions because having to divulge “preliminary drafts, notes and working papers” hobbles them in professional competition with other researchers, but that’s not how it’s being presented.  It’s being presented as a mechanism for hiding the work on the hotly contested issue of climate change on behalf of a governing elite that has given the people no justification for trust.

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We Won’t Always Have Paris, Thank Goodness

In light of Dan Yorke’s surprising incredulity that Mike Stenhouse would be satisfied with President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, I was happy to come across Roger Kimball’s shared glee over the withdrawal and the ensuing lunacy from the Left:

Hysteria on the Left was universal. But as many cooler-headed commentators observed, one of the really amusing things is that the Paris Accord means exactly nothing. Since it requires nothing of its signatories, it will yield nothing from them. As an editorial in The Wall Street Journal pointed out, “amid the outrage, the aggrieved still haven’t gotten around to resolving the central Paris contradiction, which is that it promises to be Earth-saving but fails on its own terms. It is a pledge of phony progress.”

Kimball offers two things that Paris does do, though.  First is offering people an opportunity for cheap-to-them virtue signaling.

The second reason for the hysteria follows from the one serious effect of the climate accord. It has nothing to do with saving the environment. Every candid observer understands that the real end of the accord is not helping “the environment” but handicapping the developed countries. At its core, the accord is intended as a mechanism to redistribute wealth by hampering countries like the United States from exploiting its energy resources and growing its economy. Hamstring the United States, but let countries like China and India—industrial strength polluters, both—do whatever they want.

Like many international agreements, the unspoken subtext of the Paris Climate Accord is “hamper America. Grab as much of its wealth as you can. Say it’s in the name of ‘fairness.’”

The irony is that the Left is throwing around terms like “traitorous” and “betrayal,” which makes me think of Indiana Jones.  Kimball quotes left-wing billionaire political activist Tom Steyer on the first term; I’ve noted our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s using the second, conspicuously just a few days after the mega-donor’s statement.  And yet, they’re using those words to describe an action that, from the perspective of many conservatives, puts working Americans’ interests first.

That’s a strange sort of betrayal, if your loyalty is to Americans.

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The Other Side in Battling Climates

RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse appeared on Dan Yorke State of Mind this week to talk about the Center’s Family Prosperity Index (FPI) release, but inasmuch as he followed a segment criticizing President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change accords, he tied the two together thus:

The one thing that’s missing from all [your previous guests’] discussions you heard was how this impacts real people and real families.  There’s this mythical — I don’t think the professor can prove that there’s “catastrophic” climate change coming — there’s this mythical problem we’ve created of this catastrophe.  Maybe the temperatures are rising, but is it a catastrophe?

What we do know is that it drives all these crazy energy policies, like the carbon tax, like energy mandates, that are driving up energy rates on families and businesses, that are driving people out of this state.  Do you know that in those 12-year periods, we’ve lost the equivalent of 11 cities and towns worth of people to net migration loss.

The costs of energy and other taxes and regulations are so high on businesses and families that they’re fleeing our state.  Eighty thousand people.  That’s 11 of our smaller cities and towns gone.

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One Way the Left Gets Turned Around on Misanthropy

David Harsanyi finds the ghoulish worldview of self-styled “science guy” Bill Nye objectionable.  This particular paragraph of Harsanyi’s, though, allows for an interesting tangent into how the Left and Right think:

We live in a world where Ehrlich protege John Holdren — who, like his mentor, made a career of offering memorably erroneous predictions (not out of the ordinary for alarmists) — was able to become a science czar in the Obama administration. Holdren co-authored a book in late 1970s called “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment,” which waded into theoretical talk about mass sterilizations and forced abortions in an effort to save hundreds of millions from sure death. Nye is a fellow denier of one of the most irrefutable facts about mankind: Human ingenuity overcomes demand.

This is just a single example of progressives’ comfort with concepts like forced sterilizations and forced abortions.  Harsanyi also quotes progressive Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as saying, “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.”  Other examples would easily be found.

What comes immediately to mind for a contrast is the Left’s reaction to Charles Murray.  Anybody who has read Murray’s original flash-point for controversy, The Bell Curve, would know that the book…

  • acknowledged differences in intelligence,
  • reported that in current circumstances, these differences do relate statistically (although not inevitably) to racial groups, and
  • warned about the future consequences of allowing such trends to develop.

Murray and co-author Richard Herrnstein were concerned about the development of a “cognitive elite” in proverbial gated communities lording it over everybody else.  In order to avoid that in the future, they said, we must honestly address the data and answer thorny questions of culture and political philosophy.

Think about that.  Murray is attacked as a “white supremacist” by the Left for arguing that we’re headed toward a divided, dystopian future that we should strive to avoid.  Meanwhile, voices on the Left are lauded despite their openness to divisive, dystopian policies in the present.

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Having Enough Sense to Come in Out of the Rain

Reading about Rhode Island’s obligatory branch of the “March for Science,” I couldn’t help but think of this scene from the classic philosophical work, Big Trouble in Little China.

A brave man (or a left-wing ideologue) may like the feel of nature on his face, but there’s something humorous about the idea of people with saturated political signs standing in the rain for an hour and a half listening to speeches about the importance of learning the lessons of science.  Jacqueline Tempera’s credulous reporting for the Providence Journal only adds to the humor:

After about an hour and a half of speeches, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott from the Rhode Island Department of Health ended the program with a strong message.

“This is more than bad policy,” she said. “This is a profound environmental injustice that will have the biggest impact on our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.”

Before the reader can even get to wondering whether Tempera believes “strong message” is an objective phrase or is just cheering on her political allies, the absolute absence of context for the “strong statement” — from a state employee making an overtly political statement — captures the event to perfection.

What is “more than bad policy”?  We don’t know, and one suspects the Puddle-Jumpers for Science don’t either.

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Academic Central Planners Drift from Reality

Noting that the Federal Reserve Bank is increasingly guided by academic economists, rather than businesspeople and bankers with practical experience, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts worries about the consequences in the Wall Street Journal:

Central banking, in other words, is now dominated by academics. And while I don’t blame them for it, academics by their nature come to decision-making with a distinctly—you guessed it—academic perspective. The shift described by Mr. Grant has had consequences. For one thing, simplicity based on age-old practice has been replaced by complexity based on econometric theory. Big Data has played an increasingly prominent role in how the Fed operates, even as the Fed’s role in the economy has deepened and widened.

Rather than enlisting business leaders and bankers to fulfill the Fed’s increasingly complex mission, the nation’s political and monetary authorities turned primarily to the world’s most brilliant economists, who can be thought of more and more as monetary scientists. “Central bankers have invited politicians to abdicate leadership authority to an inbred society of PhD academics who are infected to their core with groupthink, or as I prefer to think of it: ‘groupstink,’ ” argues former Dallas Fed analyst Danielle DiMartino Booth in a new book.

Two of the important things that practical experience will tend to teach people are to be humble about one’s ability to plan in a complicated world and to be aware of the real, human consequences of decisions.  In contrast, the intellectual challenge of an academic and modeling approach is to push beyond the boundaries of practical experience.  There’s certainly a place for that — an important one — but it’s in the private sector, where people invest their own money.  A “central” anything ought to be overly staid and cautious.

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Do We Need a Temperance Movement for the Internet?

As we all wake up groggy on the first Monday after the Daylight Savings switch and go about our plugged-in days, let’s give some thoughts to Ross Douthat’s exhortation to “Resist the Internet.”  Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Douthat encourages a vast new regime of laws and social norms limiting the degree to which people are plugged in through their computers and smart phones.

Fanciful as most of his essay is, his last suggestion and more-realistic expectation are worth taking seriously:

… The age of consent should be 16, not 13, for Facebook accounts. Kids under 16 shouldn’t be allowed on gaming networks. High school students shouldn’t bring smartphones to school. Kids under 13 shouldn’t have them at all. If you want to buy your child a cellphone, by all means: In the new dispensation, Verizon and Sprint will have some great “voice-only” plans available for minors.

I suspect that versions of these ideas will be embraced within my lifetime by a segment of the upper class and a certain kind of religious family. But the masses will still be addicted, and the technology itself will have evolved to hook and immerse — and alienate and sedate — more completely and efficiently.

That sounds about right.  Those with advantages adjust to innovations and changes, but as with much else in the culture war (particularly around sex and lifestyle), those who need us to build a common culture for their benefit and their ability to improve their lot are harmed.

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Yes, Much of Today’s Ire Is Projection

Be sure to check out Elizabeth Nolan Brown’s summary in Reason of some recent research on collective outrage:

Ultimately, the results of Rothschild and Keefer’s five studies were “consistent with recent research showing that outgroup-directed moral outrage can be elicited in response to perceived threats to the ingroup’s moral status,” write the authors. The findings also suggest that “outrage driven by moral identity concerns serves to compensate for the threat of personal or collective immorality” and the cognitive dissonance that it might elicit, and expose a “link between guilt and self-serving expressions of outrage that reflect a kind of ‘moral hypocrisy,’ or at least a non-moral form of anger with a moral facade.”

Here are the key findings, quoting from Brown:

  1. Triggering feelings of personal culpability for a problem increases moral outrage at a third-party target.  …
  2. The more guilt over one’s own potential complicity, the more desire “to punish a third-party through increased moral outrage at that target.” …
  3. Having the opportunity to express outrage at a third-party decreased guilt in people threatened through “ingroup immorality.” …
  4. “The opportunity to express moral outrage at corporate harm-doers” inflated participants perception of personal morality. …
  5. Guilt-induced moral outrage was lessened when people could assert their goodness through alternative means, “even in an unrelated context.” …

Of course, these days, all social science comes with a caveat about replication, but this particular study sure does feel familiar and explanatory of behavior we can observe every day in the political field.

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Artifacts of Reality, and God’s Intention

Peter Woit is rightly skeptical in his Wall Street Journal review of a book called A Big Bang in a Little Room, by Zeeya Merali.  Science, after all, as Woit points out, is about what is observable, measurable, and current theories in physics are playing at the boundaries of what may be observable, even in theory:

[Theorist Alan] Guth was initially fascinated by the idea of baby universes getting produced and making up a multiverse, though he imagined these other universes would all have the same physics as ours. Ms. Merali relates that he quickly lost interest: Why care much about cosmological models producing not just our universe but other copies we can never observe? Over the past 15 years, however, [Andrei] Linde’s slightly different argument—for a multiverse of universes, each with different physics, has become very popular. Such a multiverse even provides an explanation for the lack of progress in recent decades toward a better understanding of where fundamental laws of physics come from: The laws we observe are just artifacts of where various inflaton fields happened to randomly end up after our Big Bang; in other universes, the laws are different. Ms. Merali gives a disturbing version of this, contemplating the possibility that “string theory and inflation may be conspiring against us in such a way that we may never find evidence for them, and just have to trust in them as an act of faith.”

Use of the word “artifact” brings to mind Tom Wolfe’s recent book, The Kingdom of Speech, about which I’ll get around to writing, one of these days.  Challenging previous efforts to fit speech into theories of evolution, Wolfe oversteps the argument by calling speech an “artifact” — happened upon or invented, but in no need of being made natural or inevitable.

Whether for multiverses or language, faith in this artifactness permits atheism.  Before such theories of relativism, the plain conclusion had to be that somebody created the universe and its laws, gifting mankind with its artifacts and abilities to create more.  If we just happen to be on one of limitless paths that happens to accommodate our existence, then our sense of the impossibility of the odds can be brushed aside with the infinite and purposeless attempts.

At the end of it all, the necessity of faith is unavoidable.  Belief in God versus chance is always a choice, even with relativism.  Take the notion of a multiverse containing universes that have alternative laws of physics.  I would argue that they exist, but essentially as theory, and can only be said truly to exist to the extent one can coherently follow them, sort of like relativity with an observation limit.  We make them exist, and their coherence points to a central intention, which is God.

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Smartypants Social Science That Can’t Be Replicated

So, this morning, I suggested that consideration of popular taste has its place in religious practice.  Somehow, an article titled “Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’,” on the BBC, by Tom Feilden, strikes me as related:

The problem[, when he couldn’t replicate a textbook study], was not with Marcus Munafo’s science, but with the way the scientific literature had been “tidied up” to present a much clearer, more robust outcome.

“What we see in the published literature is a highly curated version of what’s actually happened,” he says.

“The trouble is that gives you a rose-tinted view of the evidence because the results that get published tend to be the most interesting, the most exciting, novel, eye-catching, unexpected results.

The article goes on to quote University of Cambridge Sainsbury Laboratory director Dame Ottoline Leyser as suggesting that it’s not deliberate fraud, per se, but a push for “impact over substance, flashy findings over the dull, confirmatory work.”  One could read that two ways:  scientists want to make interesting discoveries to be read, but also, if they confirm the political or ideological biases of their peers and audiences, they’ll get more notice.

Thus, a flashy finding will make its way around the world and become truth even though other scientists might only be able to replicate the results with the same odds of rolling dice.

I can’t seem to find the link, but it certainly opened my eyes way back when I began reading and responding to items in the news that a study proclaiming the value of contraception over abstinence went around the world without anybody but your humble blogger pointing out that the percentages in the equation were such that improvements in abstinence actually made it look like contraceptives improved even more.

Back then, as I recall, the Bush Administration’s emphasis on abstinence education was the anti-science that the smart set was dying to prove to be superstition.  That incentive made their whole vaunted system for generating and promulgating information susceptible to believing erroneous science.

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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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