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Two Questions on Negative Results in Pre-K Study

As Gail Heriot points out two distinct questions arise from a study finding negative effects from prekindergarten programs for low-income children.

The first, obviously, is why the results would be negative.  In this case, the writers speculate that it could be statistical noise, with pre-K falsely identifying students as requiring special education, which would then affect expectations that they won’t perform as well in elementary school.  Another explanation, that we’ve addressed in this space, before, is that the free pre-K option, while attractive in the moment for families, is not necessarily better for the children than the alternative of time at home with family or a more personalized day-care option.  And yet another explanation we’ve touched on in the past is that being more advanced in an academic sense at the start of kindergarten creates boredom as the other kids catch up.

Perhaps all of these things are in play; the question then becomes whether it’s worth the expense and risk of unintended consequences to attempt to tweak the project.  The hypothesis that pre-K will only work out if it’s universal can’t be proven without making it universal, at which point we may very well exacerbate the problem for children whose parents would have been happy to stay home with them.

The second question is the one on which Heriot focuses.  Apparently, the study authors had difficulty publishing and received push-back in a way that seemed to have more to do with a policy preference than a scientific assessment.  Heriot writes:

Here’s a question worth knowing the answer to: How much of the vitriol was coming from individuals with a financial stake in the continuation of government-subsidized pre-kindergarten programs for low-income children? As always, the more that gets spent on any government program, the harder it is to turn the spigot off.

Vitriol may also come from people invested in the notion that government needs to get children away from their backwards parents as soon as possible.  Either way, anybody not on the take or ideologically invested should want policy decisions to be made on a firm basis, which means an openness to the possibility that meddling in people’s lives will have unintended consequences.

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Self-Driving Government Brainstorming Sessions

This Associated Press article doesn’t have much by way of detail, but it’s enough to be a head scratcher:

The state Department of Transportation is looking to get out in front of the self-driving vehicle movement with a plan to provide automated service for an underserved section of Providence.

The department on Monday announced that it is accepting proposals from companies who can test and eventually deliver such a service to fill a transportation gap between downtown Providence and Olneyville via the Woonasquatucket River corridor.

Rhode Islanders should be a little nervous when our state government starts talking about getting out ahead of the private sector with technological innovations.  A subsequent update to the article seems to go in an entirely different direction:

In an interview Monday, DOT director Peter Alviti Jr. said his agency doesn’t want to limit what private innovative concepts companies might propose, by mandating particular types of vehicles, the projects costs or even the route, which he said is not limited to just the Woonasquatucket River corridor.

Alviti said the DOT expects autonomous vehicles will begin appearing on Rhode Island roads with traditional cars within five years and the pilot is intended to create “tangible interactions” with the technology so the government can better understand how to plan for it. …

Although the pilot program could theoretically take the form of a bus, Alviti said the intent is not to create an autonomous mass transit system.

So, it appears the idea is to contract with some company to brainstorm just about any way self-driving vehicles might affect or be incorporated into public transit.  That’s a bit more open ended of an objective than we ought to accept, and a cynic might wonder who is going to turn out to be the owner of the company that gets this open-ended brainstorming project.

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Will We Wake When Treated by Woke Doctors?

This, from a Weekly Standard article by Devorah Goldman, is terrifying:

In 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges revised the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) for the first time in nearly 25 years, stretching the full exam-day experience from around five hours to eight or more. The test drew attention at the time for its sheer length; less widely noted was the explicitly ideological bent of the new exam.

The AAMC occupies a curious place in the world of medicine. It forms one-half of the only government-approved accrediting entity for U.S. medical schools, and it is solely in charge of administering both the MCAT and the national standardized medical school application. Unlike the American Medical Association, which represents physician groups without exercising much direct control over doctors, the AAMC has immediate and significant authority over its constituent medical schools and academic health centers. And in recent years, it has used this leverage to fundamentally alter the way medical schools assess applicants. …

In that address and others, [Dr. Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the AAMC,] described the AAMC’s “Holistic Review Project,” which the organization launched in 2007 with the goal of “redefining what makes a good doctor.” The project’s objectives included revising the MCAT and a wide range of other reforms. A series of new guidelines (some of which have yet to be implemented) called on medical school admissions teams to place less emphasis on applicants’ grades, changed the requirements for letters of recommendation, and altered the standardized application by requesting a great deal more information about students’ upbringing and life experiences. The AAMC is also planning to add “situational judgment tests”—carefully crafted interviews in which applicants will be presented with a variety of hypothetical scenarios involving ethical conflicts—to the current admissions requirements. Along with the new MCAT, these changes are part of Kirch’s plan to shift the focus of medical-school admissions toward a “new excellence,” a standard based less on test scores and more on “the attitudes, values, and experiences” of applicants.

Sorry, but I’m much more concerned with whether my doctor knows how my body functions and how to fix it when things go wrong than what his or her attitude and values might be.  Basically, if he or she values my business and my health, I’m good with whatever else he or she might believe.

As progressivism seeks to turn everything in our society to the single goal of political ends, it will seek not only to ensure that progressive doctors and other professionals are available to those who value them, but that no other options exist.

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The Soul of a Chicken

OK. Here’s one that’s a little outside of our usual content, here:

The headless chicken that found internet fame for surviving more than a week after being decapitated has now been adopted by monks.

Earlier this week the headless chicken made headlines around the world as it survived a beheading and was looked after by a kindly vet.

Take a look at the pictures (if you’re so inclined) and ask yourself:  What does this say about the boundary of “life” between animals and plants?

From a purely materialistic standpoint, living thing can be defined as an entity that processes information internally.  Weather can wear away a rock, but a plant can change what it does based on the information of the weather.  What separates an animal, like a chicken?  My view (broadly), is that animal life can deal in some level of abstraction; it takes in information from its senses and reacts in a way that adjusts from experience and predicts the future.  This is the inchoate foundation of the soul, to be less materialistic.

So, without a head, what is the chicken doing?  Can one train it to approach certain stimuli in the knowledge that it will receive food?  Or is it just a biological machine?

On a metaphysical level, one could go either way.  One could point to the chicken and still consider its animal life sacred and then conclude that plant life should be similarly sacred.  Or one could suggest that a headless chicken raises doubts about how much of a leap there really is from plant to animal and whether we really should value animals more highly than plants simply for the fact of their being animals.

I’m not quite in the mood to place my marker on this game board, at this moment, but as the stories increase in frequency of activists and lawmakers’ going after people who treat animals without the most recently approved level of care, I’ve thought that folks should perhaps consider these deep questions a bit more thoroughly.

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A Snapshot of Celebrity Morals

The next time some celebrity presumes to proclaim a principle as if his or her social status brings with it some sort of moral authority, remind yourself of this story by Hannah Sparks in the New York Post:

The Hollywood EGF Facial — a $650 treatment — involves a cleanse, chemical peel, microneedling, an “electrifying” face mask and a so-called “Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF)” — a serum that happens to be derived from the foreskin of Korean newborns. The substance supposedly helps generate collagen and elastin in the skin.

It’s just one of many borderline cannibalistic — and inevitably expensive — beauty products wooing the rich and vain these days.

As the article goes on to indicate (although without expressing it thus), this may be part of a progressively pushed envelope.  The use of human secretions of one form or another has been a skin care strategy in the past, and moved on to the use of placentas and the customer’s own blood.

Along this trend line, utilizing discarded foreskins from other people’s children feels like a new level, in keeping with the use of young people’s blood in anti-aging experiments.  This is a precarious and (yes) slippery slope, and we make a huge mistake in our society when we attribute a higher moral status to precisely the class of people who seem to have the least friction to their soles.

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Some Practical Calculations Applied to Climate Alarmism

Here’s an interesting alternative view to the usual alarmism about the climate. Manhattan Institute Senior Scholar Oren Cass looks at a few studies with implausible conclusions. One predicts Iceland and Mongolia as future economic powerhouses.  Here’s another interesting finding from a government agency:

One Environmental Protection Agency study estimates the potential increase in extreme-temperature deaths by looking at city-specific effects. It assumes that a day counting as unusually hot for some city in 2000 will cause a similar mortality increase in that city in 2100, even if climate change makes it no longer unusual.

The result is a projection that a hot day will kill massive numbers in Northern cities by 2100—though such temperatures are already routine at lower latitudes with no such ill effects. Pittsburgh’s extreme-temperature mortality rate is supposed to be 75 times as high in 2100 as that of Phoenix in 2000, though Pittsburgh will not be as hot then as Phoenix was a century earlier.

But if Pittsburgh’s climate steadily warms over the coming century, it will not react to a 100-degree day in 2100 the same way it did in 2000. Even if it didn’t warm, we should assume that economic and technological advancement will make the city and its residents more resilient to heat than they are today.

The absence of this sort of discussion is what makes many of us skeptical of alarmism.  There are many steps between “the planet is warming” and “you have to restrain your economy and give up your freedom,” but we’re typically told that there’s no time for all that stuff.

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A Healthy Warning for Smaht Folks

This news isn’t at all surprising:

The biggest differences between the Mensa group and the general population were seen for mood disorders and anxiety disorders. More than a quarter (26.7%) of the sample reported that they had been formally diagnosed with a mood disorder, while 20% reported an anxiety disorder—far higher than the national averages of around 10% for each. The differences were smaller, but still statistically significant and practically meaningful, for most of the other disorders. The prevalence of environmental allergies was triple the national average (33% vs. 11%).

Smart people are still human.  Ultimately, they’re just applying more processing power to humanity’s hangups, and the intelligence doesn’t necessarily resolve those hangups, but can exacerbate them because much of life is irrational.

In my view, their ability to process information makes it more important for smart folks to reason their way to a “yes” on the binary question of whether the universe is governed by the divine.  Such a view answers our human nature while giving some rational shape to life.  The categorical alternative (allowing for individual variation) is to become something like a Vulcan from Star Trek and eliminate the irrational, including emotions.

This is also one area in which diversity is actually important.  We ought to structure society in such a way that people of all different cognitive capacities interact with each other in a way that reinforces mutual respect, not the least because doing so fleshes out the principle that any moral philosophy must create space for everybody to lead fulfilling, significant lives.

Your processing power is useful, but it isn’t everything, and it doesn’t make you more equal than the other animals.

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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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