Fri Jun 10 13:28:16 EDT 2016

Election Matters

Various web links related to the 2016 primaries and the election of US President.

  • The Elites and the Rise of Donald Trump

    To start with the simplest case, the pundits, who are all free traders, get really blank faced when the topic of protectionism for doctors, dentists, lawyers and other highly paid professionals comes up. Just as there are hundreds of millions of people in the developing world who are prepared to do factory labor for a fraction of the pay of our manufacturing workers, there are tens of millions of really smart ambitious people in the developing world (and Europe) who would happily train to U.S. standards and work as professionals here for a fraction of the pay of our doctors and lawyers. The difference is that we have designed our trade deals to subject our manufacturing workers to competition, while we have maintained or increased the protection for our doctors and lawyers.
    ...
    Then we have our financial sector where the bankers benefit from "too big to fail" insurance from the government. We also exempt trades of stocks, bonds, and derivatives from the same sort of sales tax that applies to clothes, cars, and most other products. Even an extremely small tax in the financial sector could raise over $100 billion a year, while putting many of the Wall Street high rollers out of business.

  • I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist.

    Here's what they said.

    Kagan is wrong. Donald Trump is not a fascist. "Fascism" has been an all-purpose insult for many years now, but it has a real definition, and according to scholars of historical fascism, Trump doesn't qualify. Rather, he's a right-wing populist, or perhaps an "apartheid liberal" in the words of Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism. He doesn't want to overthrow the existing democratic system. He doesn't want to scrap the Constitution. He doesn't romanticize violence itself as a vital cleansing agent of society. He's simply a racist who wants to keep the current system but deny its benefits to groups he's interested in oppressing.

  • The System Isn't `Rigged' Against Sanders

    Clinton's winning because more Democrats want her to be the nominee.

    Realistically, if you throw everything together, the math suggests that Sanders doesn't have much to complain about. If the Democratic nomination were open to as many Democrats as possible -- through closed primaries -- Clinton would be dominating Sanders. And if the nomination were open to as many voters as possible -- through open primaries -- she'd still be winning.


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Tue May 31 14:19:05 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Growth of income and welfare in the U.S, 1979-2011

    John Komlos, NBER Working Paper.

    The major consistent findings include what in the colloquial is referred to as the "hollowing out" of the middle class. According to these estimates, the income of the middle class 2nd and 3rd quintiles increased at a rate of between 0.1% and 0.7% per annum, i.e., barely distinguishable from zero. Even that meager rate was achieved only through substantial transfer payments. In contrast, the income of the top 1% grew at an astronomical rate of between 3.4% and 3.9% per annum during the 32-year period, reaching an average annual value of $918,000, up from $281,000 in 1979 (in 2011 dollars).
    ...
    With interdependent utility functions only the welfare of the 5th quintile experienced meaningful growth while those of the first four quintiles tend to be either negligible or even negative.

  • How the Pentagon punished NSA whistleblowers

    Long before Edward Snowden went public, John Crane was a top Pentagon official fighting to protect NSA whistleblowers. Instead their lives were ruined -- and so was his.

    The first is Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on the very same NSA activities 10 years before Snowden did. Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.
    ...
    But there is another man whose story has never been told before, who is speaking out publicly for the first time here. His name is John Crane, and he was a senior official in the Department of Defense who fought to provide fair treatment for whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake -- until Crane himself was forced out of his job and became a whistleblower as well.

  • Intuitive And Reflective Responses In Philosophy

    Cognitive scientists have revealed systematic errors in human reasoning. There is disagreement about what these errors indicate about human rationality, but one upshot seems clear: human reasoning does not seem to fit traditional views of human rationality. This concern about rationality has made its way through various fields and has recently caught the attention of philosophers. The concern is that if philosophers are prone to systematic errors in reasoning, then the integrity of philosophy would be threatened. In this paper, I present some of the more famous work in cognitive science that has marshaled this concern. Then I present reasons to think that those with training in philosophy will be less prone to certain systematic errors in reasoning. The suggestion is that if philosophers could be shown to be less prone to such errors, then the worries about the integrity of philosophy could be constrained. Then I present evidence that, according to performance on the CRT (Frederick 2005), those who have benefited from training and selection in philosophy are indeed less prone to one kind of systematic error: irrationally arbitrating between intuitive and reflective responses. Nonetheless, philosophers are not entirely immune to this systematic error, and their proclivity for this error is statistically related to their responses to a variety of philosophical questions. So, while the evidence herein puts constraints on the worries about the integrity of philosophy, it by no means eliminates these worries. The conclusion, then, is that the present evidence offers prima facie reasons to ascribe a mitigated privilege to philosophers' ability to rationally arbitrate between intuitive and reflective responses.

  • Scientists say there's such a thing as "ethical amnesia"

    and it's probably happened to you

    A study published (paywall) today (May 16) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that when we act unethically, we're more likely to remember these actions less clearly. Researchers from Northwestern University and Harvard University coined the term "unethical amnesia" to describe this phenomenon, which they believe stems from the fact that memories of ourselves acting in ways we shouldn't are uncomfortable.

    "Unethical amnesia is driven by the desire to lower one's distress that comes from acting unethically and to maintain a positive self-image as a moral individual," the authors write in the paper.

  • Is Big Data Taking Us Closer to the Deeper Questions in Artificial Intelligence?

    A Conversation With Gary Marcus (with Edge Video and audio).

    Even though there's a lot of hype about AI and a lot of money being invested in AI, I feel like the field is headed in the wrong direction. There's been a local maximum where there's a lot of low-hanging fruit right now in a particular direction, which is mainly deep learning and big data. People are very excited about the big data and what it's giving them right now, but I'm not sure it's taking us closer to the deeper questions in artificial intelligence, like how we understand language or how we reason about the world.

  • An introduction to The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox

    Nordic societies seem to have it all: a historic tradition of women's entrepreneurship, modern welfare states that provide support to working parents, outstanding levels of women's participation in the labour market and populations that strongly support the idea of gender equality. It therefore comes as a surprise that Nordic countries, in one international ranking after another, are shown to have few women among top-managers and business owners. Another surprise is that the three Baltic countries, which have more conservative societies and a more small-government approach than their Nordic neighbors, have more women managers, top executives and business owners.
    ...
    In this book, Dr. Nima Sanandaji shows that the apparent paradox has a simple answer: Nordic welfare states are -- unintentionally -- holding women back. Public sector monopolies and substantial tax wedges limit women's progress in the labour market. Overly generous parental leave systems encourage women to stay home rather than work. Welfare state safety nets discourage women from self-employment.

  • Denmark Ranks as Happiest Country; Burundi, Not So Much

    The report found that inequality was strongly associated with unhappiness -- a stark finding for rich countries like the United States, where rising disparities in income, wealth, health and well-being have fueled political discontent.


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Wed May 25 00:00:00 EDT 2016

Economic Matters

Some web links related to economics and finance.

  • Chameleons: The Misuse of Theoretical Models in Finance and Economics

    • Cherry Picking in Empirical Research = Carefully Selecting Data to Support a Desired Result
      • If one has sufficient freedom to select the data, one can support almost any result.
    • Potential Cherry Picking in Theoretical Research = Searching for a Set of Assumptions that Produces a Desired Conclusion
      • If one has sufficient freedom to select assumptions, one can create a model to support almost any result.
      • Are the assumptions reasonable?
      • Are there other more reasonable assumptions that explain what we see?

  • Risk Doesn't Stand Still

    Review of Greg IP's book, Foolproof: Why Safety Can Be Dangerous and How Danger Makes Us Safe

    In this provocative new book, the Wall Street Journal's chief economics commentator Greg Ip contemplates how actions to reduce and control risk are often discovered to have increased it in some other way, and thus, "how safety can be dangerous."

    This is an eclectic exploration of the theme, ranging over financial markets, forest fires, airline and automobile safety, bacterial adaptation to antibiotics, flood control, monetary policy, and financial regulation. In every area, Ip shows the limits of human minds trying to anticipate the long-term consequences of decisions whose effects are entangled in complex systems.

  • The State of the Art in the Economics of Education

    the most promising areas for policy are:

    • Teacher effectiveness is by far the most important thing that matters in school. The difference in outcomes for pupils taught by effective or ineffective teachers is huge.   . . .
    • Investment in the early years of child development is very important.   . . .
    • A coherent market structure for schools to operate in is very important.   . . .
  • Jeremy Grantham's Take on Oil, Metals and Agriculture

    Quarterly market outlook from the hedge fund manager.

    The commodities guru argues that oil stocks can recover while farmland is his "first choice" for the long run.


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Thu May 12 22:52:57 EDT 2016

Encryption Backdoors

  • Exploiting Emotions About Paris to Blame Snowden, Distract from Actual Culprits Who Empowered ISIS
    Glenn Greenwald

    One key premise here seems to be that prior to the Snowden reporting, The Terrorists helpfully and stupidly used telephones and unencrypted emails to plot, so Western governments were able to track their plotting and disrupt at least large-scale attacks. That would come as a massive surprise to the victims of the attacks of 2002 in Bali, 2004 in Madrid, 2005 in London, 2008 in Mumbai, and April 2013 at the Boston Marathon. How did the multiple perpetrators of those well-coordinated attacks -- all of which were carried out prior to Snowden's June 2013 revelations -- hide their communications from detection?

  • Spying on Congress and Israel: NSA Cheerleaders Discover Value of Privacy Only When Their Own Is Violated
    Glenn Greenwald

    In January 2014, I debated Rep. Hoekstra about NSA spying and he could not have been more mocking and dismissive of the privacy concerns I was invoking. "Spying is a matter of fact," he scoffed.
    ...
    But all that, of course, was before Hoekstra knew that he and his Israeli friends were swept up in the spying of which he was so fond. Now that he knows that it is his privacy and those of his comrades that has been invaded, he is no longer cavalier about it. In fact, he's so furious that this long-time NSA cheerleader is actually calling for the criminal prosecution of the NSA and Obama officials for the crime of spying on him and his friends.

  • Why Governments Lie About Encryption Backdoors
    Lauren Weinstein

    They know that the smart, major terrorist groups will never use systems with government-mandated backdoors for their important communications, they'll continue to use strong systems developed in and/or distributed by countries without such government mandates, or their own strong self-designed apps.

    So it seems clear that the real reason for the government push for encryption backdoors is an attempt not to catch the most dangerous terrorists that they're constantly talking about, but rather a selection of "low-hanging fruit" of various sorts.

  • What the FBI Really Wants from Apple -- and Why Apple Has Said No
    Lauren Weinstein

    In other words, what we're seeing play out right now may be the federal government's first real attempt to get "the camel's nose under the tent" of strong phone encryption systems, to try demonstrate any feasibility of full-blown backdoor attacks against these systems.
    ...
    For if the government can gain access to these systems in such manners, it is axiomatic and unquestionable that evildoers of all stripes will find ways to do so as well, in a black hat hacking dream come true.


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Fri Apr 29 14:59:58 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Yes, the American Economy Is in a Funk -- But Not for the Reasons You Think

    Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics Podcast

    As sexy as the digital revolution may be, it can't compare to the Second Industrial Revolution (electricity! the gas engine! antibiotics!), which created the biggest standard-of-living boost in U.S. history. The only problem, argues the economist Robert Gordon, is that the Second Industrial Revolution was a one-time event. So what happens next?
    ...
    Robert Gordon is an economist at Northwestern University and the author of a book called The Rise and Fall of American Growth. Think about that title for a moment. The rise -- and fall -- of American growth. So Gordon's view may be as dark as all those presidential candidates' views. But while politicians generally look for easy villains -- immigrants or China or Wall Street -- Gordon takes a less, shall we say, hysterical view of things. It is a view based on how innovation and inventions affect the economy, especially the inventions of the past few decades.

    GORDON: The Second Industrial Revolution included electricity, the internal combustion engine, chemicals, plastics, running water, the conquest of infectious diseases, the conquest of infant mortality, the development of processed food, the fact that women no longer had to make their clothes at home, but could buy them either in department stores or mail-order catalogs. So all of those things, every dimension of human life, was affected by the Second Industrial Revolution, with the inventions mainly taking place between 1870 and the early 1900s, and having their big impact on such economic measures as productivity during the middle part of the 20th century, especially from 1920 to 1970.

    GORDON: The Third Industrial Revolution started off around 1960, with the first mainframe computer. And went further into the mini computer, the personal computer in 1980, and then followed by the marriage of communications with computers that we call the Internet, or the dot-com revolution that happened in the late 1990s. So all of these changes radically changed our ability to process information. Along the way we had a similar revolution in entertainment. So the Third Industrial Revolution includes entertainment, information through the computers, and communication as we moved from landline phones to what we can call dumb mobile phones in the 1990s, then into smart mobile phones in the last 10 to 15 years. Now, there's nothing wrong with the Third Industrial Revolution. Each of those fields was dramatically and completely changed, particularly the information processing by the computer and the invention of such things as e-commerce and search engines and email and web browsing. But those inventions, as monumental as they were, were taking place just in a narrow slice of human life in terms of the economy.

  • The paradox of the climate change consensus

    Judith Curry

    There is genuine scientific consensus on the following points:
    • global temperatures have increased overall since 1880
    • humans are contributing to a rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations
    • CO2 emits and absorbs infrared radiation
    For the most consequential issues, there remains considerable debate:
    • whether the warming since 1950 has been dominated by human causes
    • how much the planet will warm in the 21st century
    • whether warming is 'dangerous'
    • whether radically reducing CO2 emissions will improve the climate and human well being

    Leveraged by the consensus on the three points above that are not disputed, the climate 'consensus' is being sold as applying to all of the above, even the issues for which there remains considerable debate.

  • CO2 Fertilization Greening The Earth

    "We were able to tie the greening largely to the fertilizing effect of rising atmospheric CO2 concentration by tasking several computer models to mimic plant growth observed in the satellite data," says co-author Prof. Ranga Myneni of the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, USA.

    ...
    The beneficial aspect of CO2 fertilization in promoting plant growth has been used by contrarians ...
    "The fallacy of the contrarian argument is two-fold. First, the many negative aspects of climate change, namely global warming, rising sea levels, melting glaciers and sea ice, more severe tropical storms, etc. are not acknowledged. Second, studies have shown that plants acclimatize, or adjust, to rising CO2 concentration and the fertilization effect diminishes over time,"

  • The myth of Big Pharma vaccine profits -- updated

    I previously blogged about this several months ago on October 30, 2015.

    An interesting point:

    Outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics would soon occur within the first 1-2 years after we end vaccination. Based on information developed by the CDC and others, the total worldwide economic burden if we suddenly ended vaccines would exceed US$50 billion (and this ignores flu pandemics that might suddenly ravish the pediatric population).

    If we stick with the estimate that about 40% of the cost of hospitalizations will fall to Big Pharma, then they would make about $20 billion a year, worldwide, from not vaccinating. But remember, most vaccines are given, at most, 2-3 times, so, long-term, the revenues derived from vaccines is rather flat, unless new diseases are prevented. But, the revenues from the diseases themselves repeat every single year, and possibly multiple times per child.

    And most of the products used to treat these diseases don't require the research and capital investment that vaccines require. In other words, the income derived from vaccine preventable diseases would be more profitable than vaccines.

  • All Prior Art

    Algorithmically generated prior art

    All Prior Art is a project attempting to algorithmically create and publicly publish all possible new prior art, thereby making the published concepts not patent-able. The concept is to democratize ideas, provide an impetus for change in the patent system, and to preempt patent trolls. The system works by pulling text from the entire database of US issued and published (un-approved) patents and creating prior art from the patent language. While most inventions generated will be nonsensical, the cost to computationally create and publish millions of ideas is nearly zero -- which allows for a higher probability of possible valid prior art.

    A sister website All The Claims is attempting the same thing, but with the use of claims and a more verbose alternative.

    Article about it in New Scientist: Computer generates all possible ideas to beat patent trolls

  • 2016: the year the podcast came of age

    The Economist

    Podcasts, series of digital audio files that users can download or stream from MP3 players and computers, were first created in 2001. This was also the year that Apple launched the iPod, the device from which podcasting takes its name. Although it is now, in tech terms, a doughty 15 years old, it has developed only fitfully.
    ...
    They are also becoming more popular with advertisers. Podcasts are largely listened to by commuters in cars-a captive audience, and a demographic advertisers are keen to reach. To add to the attraction, the hosts of many podcasts read out the advertising copy themselves, making ads less obtrusive and more persuasive than those on many traditional stations that are more clearly delineated by distinct voices and jingles.

  • A Question of Privilege

    Marti Leimbach

    Nonetheless, this whole notion of "privilege" vexes me. We talk about it as though we can all recognise what it is. I am not always so sure. I can tell one narrative of my life and it seems to describe someone who grew up without privilege, and I can tell another narrative and it seems almost as though my life was one of ease and privilege from the time I was born.

  • The Case Against Low-fat Milk Is Stronger Than Ever

    Together, the body of data is beginning to reveal both that full-fat dairy has a place in a healthy diet, and also how focusing on one nutrient in the diet may backfire. When dietary guidelines began urging people to lower the amount of fat they ate, the idea was to reduce the amount of cholesterol and unhealthy fats in the body. But by focusing just on cutting out fat, experts didn't count on the fact that people would compensate for the missing fat and start loading up on carbohydrates, which the body converts into sugar-and then body fat.

  • [...] is a toy

    As many have recognized, when inventions and innovations first appear they are often (always) labeled as "toys" or "incapable" of doing "real work" or providing "real entertainment". Of course, many new inventions don't work out the way inventors had hoped, though quite frequently it is just a matter of timing and the coming together of a variety of circumstances. It can be said that being labeled a toy is necessary, but not sufficient, to become the next big thing.


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Fri Apr 15 00:00:00 EDT 2016

Psychology Study Replicability

I blogged about the original research report, First results from psychology's largest reproducibility test in Problems with Science May 2015. Here are some rebuttal links and a rebuttal to the rebuttal. It seems the issue of reproducibility is still unsettled.

  • Who Says Most Psychology Studies Can't Be Replicated?

    Pacific Standard magazine, Mar 3, 2016.

    A high-profile paper left that impression last year. Now, Harvard University researchers are offering a detailed rebuttal.
    ...
    A group of researchers led by prominent Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert has published a detailed rebuttal of the 2015 paper. It points to three statistical errors that, in their analysis, led the original authors to an unwarranted conclusion.

    In their rebuttal to the rebuttal, Nosek and his colleagues agree that "both methodological differences between original and replication studies and statistical power affect reproducibility," but add that the Gilbert team's "very optimistic assessment is based on statistical misconceptions and selective interpretation of correlational data."
    ...
    "More generally," Nosek and his colleagues add, "there is no such thing as exact replication." As they see it, their paper "provides initial, not definitive, evidence--just like the original studies it replicated."

  • Psychologists Call Out the Study That Called Out the Field of Psychology

    Slate blog, Mar 3 2016.

    Yeah, I know, 39 percent sounds really low--but it's about what social scientists should expect, given the fact that errors could occur either in the original studies or the replicas, says King.
    ...
    Some of the methods used for the reproduced studies were utterly confounding--for instance, OSC researchers tried to reproduce an American study that dealt with Stanford University students' attitudes toward affirmative action policies by using Dutch students at the University of Amsterdam. Others simply didn't use enough subjects to be reliable.

  • Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science

    The original article in Science from Open Science Collaboration.

    Reproducibility is a defining feature of science, but the extent to which it characterizes current research is unknown. We conducted replications of 100 experimental and correlational studies published in three psychology journals using high-powered designs and original materials when available. Replication effects were half the magnitude of original effects, representing a substantial decline. Ninety-seven percent of original studies had statistically significant results. Thirty-six percent of replications had statistically significant results; 47% of original effect sizes were in the 95% confidence interval of the replication effect size; 39% of effects were subjectively rated to have replicated the original result; and if no bias in original results is assumed, combining original and replication results left 68% with statistically significant effects. Correlational tests suggest that replication success was better predicted by the strength of original evidence than by characteristics of the original and replication teams.

  • Comment on "Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science"

    The original rebuttal in Science.

    A paper from the Open Science Collaboration ( Research Articles, 28 August 2015, aac4716) attempting to replicate 100 published studies suggests that the reproducibility of psychological science is surprisingly low. We show that this article contains three statistical errors and provides no support for such a conclusion. Indeed, the data are consistent with the opposite conclusion, namely, that the reproducibility of psychological science is quite high.

  • Response to Comment on "Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science"

    The rebuttal to the rebuttal in Science.

    Gilbert et al. conclude that evidence from the Open Science Collaboration's Reproducibility Project: Psychology indicates high reproducibility, given the study methodology. Their very optimistic assessment is limited by statistical misconceptions and by causal inferences from selectively interpreted, correlational data. Using the Reproducibility Project: Psychology data, both optimistic and pessimistic conclusions about reproducibility are possible, and neither are yet warranted.


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Thu Mar 31 23:36:11 EDT 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Facebook AI Director Yann LeCun on His Quest to Unleash Deep Learning and Make Machines Smarter

    The Inevitable Singularity Questions

    Spectrum: You've already expressed your disagreement with many of the ideas associated with the Singularity movement. I’m interested in your thoughts about its sociology. How do you account for its popularity in Silicon Valley?

    LeCun: It's difficult to say. I'm kind of puzzled by that phenomenon. As Neil Gershenfeld has noted, the first part of a sigmoid looks a lot like an exponential. It's another way of saying that what currently looks like exponential progress is very likely to hit some limit--physical, economical, societal--then go through an inflection point, and then saturate. I'm an optimist, but I'm also a realist.

    There are people that you'd expect to hype the Singularity, like Ray Kurzweil. He's a futurist. He likes to have this positivist view of the future. He sells a lot of books this way. But he has not contributed anything to the science of AI, as far as I can tell. He's sold products based on technology, some of which were somewhat innovative, but nothing conceptually new. And certainly he has never written papers that taught the world anything on how to make progress in AI.

  • Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy

    Robert H. Frank

    Frank describes how, in a world increasingly dominated by winner-take-all markets, chance opportunities and trivial initial advantages often translate into much larger ones--and enormous income differences--over time; how false beliefs about luck persist, despite compelling evidence against them; and how myths about personal success and luck shape individual and political choices in harmful ways.

  • Why smart people are better off with fewer friends

    First, they find that people who live in more densely populated areas tend to report less satisfaction with their life overall. "The higher the population density of the immediate environment, the less happy" the survey respondents said they were. Second, they find that the more social interactions with close friends a person has, the greater their self-reported happiness.

    But there was one big exception. For more intelligent people, these correlations were diminished or even reversed.

    "The effect of population density on life satisfaction was therefore more than twice as large for low-IQ individuals than for high-IQ individuals," they found. And "more intelligent individuals were actually less satisfied with life if they socialized with their friends more frequently."
    ...
    I posed this question to Carol Graham, a Brookings Institution researcher who studies the economics of happiness. "The findings in here suggest (and it is no surprise) that those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it ... are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer term objective," she said.

  • What actual 'caveman' DNA says about the Paleo movement

    But even as the "caveman" diet rose to become the most Googled diet in 2013 and 2014, evolutionary biologists, with much less advertisement, were using advanced DNA techniques, sometimes on ancient bones, to suggest that the original Paleo premise may be off the mark: In fact, it seems, we have evolved.

    Over the last year alone, prominent scientific journals have published evidence of genetic shifts in humans over the last 10,000 years -- apparently in response humankind's transition to agriculture.
    ...
    "There's evidence that there's been a lot more selection and genetic change in the last five to 10,000 years than previously thought," he said. "This is a challenge to the Paleo diet claims -- including mine and Boyd Eaton's over the years."

  • Vitamin D: To Screen or Not to Screen?

    It's hard to avoid the hype and just examine the actual scientific evidence without any bias. The United States Preventive Services Task Force has tried to do just that. It recently evaluated screening for vitamin D deficiency and concluded that the current evidence is insufficient to recommend either for or against screening. Predictably, their announcement has already led to misunderstandings and protests.

  • Waste in Cancer Drugs Costs $3 Billion a Year, a Study Says

    The federal Medicare program and private health insurers waste nearly $3 billion every year buying cancer medicines that are thrown out because many drug makers distribute the drugs only in vials that hold too much for most patients, a group of cancer researchers has found.

    The expensive drugs are usually injected by nurses working in doctors' offices and hospitals who carefully measure the amount needed for a particular patient and then, because of safety concerns, discard the rest.

  • Vaccines Are Profitable, So What?

    But then a couple things happened to turn the vaccine market around in recent years. Global demand, particularly in developing countries, shot up. Since 2000, the Gavi Alliance has provided vaccination for 500 million children in poor countries, preventing an estimated 7 million deaths. GlaxoSmithKline reported that 80 percent of the vaccine doses they manufactured in 2013 went to developing countries.
    ...
    So while the vaccine industry is likely more profitable now than in the 1970s or 1980s, this is the result of global market forces, not a reason to skip a child's vaccinations: Pharmaceutical companies need incentives to keep producing vaccines, because regardless of profits the economic and social benefits of vaccination are huge--in lives and the billions of dollars saved. A study released last year estimated that fully immunizing babies resulted in $10 saved for every dollar spent, about $69 billion total. "Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective interventions we have," says Halsey.

  • There's a big problem with Bernie Sanders's free college plan

    Sanders's own summary of his College for All Act makes it pretty clear that the act would not, in practice, eliminate college tuition. What it would do instead is offer federal matching funds on a 2-to-1 basis to states that want to increase higher education spending in order to eliminate tuition
    ...
    On most issues -- including both extension of insurance coverage and funding of public higher education -- the proximate barrier to more progressive policy is in the statehouse or the House of Representatives, not the White House.

  • We've been measuring inequality wrong

    First, spending inequality -- what we should really care about -- is far smaller than wealth inequality. This is true no matter the age cohort you consider.

    To be clear, spending power remains extremely unequal.
    ...
    The facts revealed in our study should change views. Inequality, properly measured, is extremely high, but is far lower than generally believed. The reason is that our fiscal system, properly measured, is highly progressive. And, via our high marginal taxes, we are providing significant incentives to Americans to work less and earn less than they might otherwise.

    Finally, traditional static measures of inequality, fiscal progressivity and work disincentives that a) focus on immediate incomes and net taxes rather than lifetime spending and lifetime net taxes and b) lump the old together with the young create highly distorted pictures of all three issues.

  • Why do we work so hard?

    Our jobs have become prisons from which we don't want to escape

    When John Maynard Keynes mused in 1930 that, a century hence, society might be so rich that the hours worked by each person could be cut to ten or 15 a week, he was not hallucinating, just extrapolating. The working week was shrinking fast. Average hours worked dropped from 60 at the turn of the century to 40 by the 1950s.

    The problem is not that overworked professionals are all miserable. The problem is that they are not.
    ...
    There are downsides to this life. It does not allow us much time with newborn children or family members who are ill; or to develop hobbies, side-interests or the pleasures of particular, leisurely rituals -- or anything, indeed, that is not intimately connected with professional success. But the inadmissible truth is that the eclipsing of life's other complications is part of the reward.

    It is a cognitive and emotional relief to immerse oneself in something all-consuming while other difficulties float by. The complexities of intellectual puzzles are nothing to those of emotional ones. Work is a wonderful refuge.

  • The Obama Doctrine

    Superb Jeffrey Goldberg long interview of Barack Obama in which he talks through his hardest decisions about America's role in the world.

    IMO, too bad he wasn't able to do what he thought was right until he no longer had to worry about running for office.

  • Science guy vs. philosophy: Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy?

    Olivia Goldhill

    And Nye--arguably America's favorite "edutainer"--is not the only popular scientist saying "meh" to the entire centuries-old discipline. Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has claimed philosophy is not "a productive contributor to our understanding of the natural world"; while theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking declared that "philosophy is dead."

    It's shocking that such brilliant scientists could be quite so ignorant, but unfortunately their views on philosophy are not uncommon.

    The author attacks Bill Nye and other prominent scientists for being ignorant about philosophy. But none of the scientists claim otherwise. Their point is that scientists do not need to know anything about philosophy to do good science.

  • Conditions for life may hinge on how fast the universe is expanding

    "In dense environments, you have many explosions, and you're too close to them," says cosmologist and theoretical physicist Raul Jimenez of the University of Barcelona in Spain and an author on the new study. "It's best to be in the outskirts, or in regions that have not been highly populated by small galaxies--and that's exactly where the Milky Way is."


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Thu Mar 17 19:51:15 EDT 2016

The Primaries

Thoughts about the primary elections.

  • Trumpism: "It's the Culture, Stupid"

    Scott Winship in the National Review

    I believe that Trumpism is being driven primarily by cultural anxiety -- by dissatisfaction with cultural change and perceived cultural decline. "Make America Great Again" is clearly about fear of national decline, but it is not primarily about economic decline. Trumps complaint is that "we never win anymore," not a narrow protest that other nations are taking away our jobs or that wages are stagnant. It taps into fears that something has gone wrong -- with our economy but also with our position on the international stage, with our values, with our families, and with the maintenance of law and order.

    Further, it could not be more obvious that Trump voters are mostly indifferent to policy. Trump's appeal is in his brash confidence, his celebrity, and his refusal to bow to the political correctness that is newly ascendant.

  • Neurologist explains why it's hard to look at Ted Cruz's creepy 'unsettling' face

    I have rarely, if ever, seen a conventional smile from Senator Cruz. In a natural smile the corners of the mouth go up; these muscles we can control voluntarily as well. But muscles circling the eyes are involuntary only; they make the eyes narrow, forming crow's feet at the outside corners," he continued. "No matter the emotional coloring of Senator Cruz's outward rhetoric, his mouth typically tightens into the same straight line. If it deviates from this, the corners of his mouth bend down, not upwards.

  • Inside the Republican Party's Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump

    Nice summary of how the Republican Party has tried and failed to stop Donald Trump.

    Should Mr. Trump clinch the presidential nomination, it would represent a rout of historic proportions for the institutional Republican Party, and could set off an internal rift unseen in either party for a half-century, since white Southerners abandoned the Democratic Party EN Masse during the civil rights movement.

  • The Trump Master Persuader Index and Reading List

    Scott Adams (Dilbert author) posts on understanding Trump's rise (starting 8/13/2015)

  • Why Bernie Sanders's campaign makes me worry about how he'll manage the White House

    Ezra Klein

    Sanders's "promises runs against our party's best traditions of evidence-based policy making and undermines our reputation as the party of responsible arithmetic," wrote four Democratic ex-chairs of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers. "These are numbers we would describe as deep voodoo if they came from a tax-cutting Republican," agreed Paul Krugman.

    Amidst this onslaught, Steve Randy Waldman has penned what is, I think, the best defense of Sanders. He admits that the campaign's policy proposals are sketchy and the economic projections it's circulating are fantastical. But he argues that none of that really matters.

    The president's "role is to define priorities that must later be translated into well-crafted policy details," he says. "In a democratic polity, wonks are the help."

    My worry about Sanders, watching him in this campaign, is that he isn't very interested in learning the weak points in his ideas, that he hasn't surrounded himself with people who police the limits between what they wish were true and what the best evidence says is true, that he doesn't seek out counterarguments to his instincts, that he's attracted to strategies that align with his hopes for American politics rather than what we know about American politics. And these tendencies, if they persist, can turn good values into bad policies and an inspiring candidate into a bad president.

  • Economic Populism at the Primaries

    Trump and Sanders are popular not just because they're expressing people's anger but because they offer timely critiques of American capitalism.
    ...
    Trump has called for abolishing the carried-interest tax loophole for hedge-fund and private-equity managers. He's vowed to protect Social Security. He's called for restrictions on highly skilled immigrants. Most important, he's rejected free-trade ideology, suggesting that the U.S. may need to slap tariffs on Chinese goods to protect American jobs. These views put Trump at odds not only with the leadership of the Republican Party but also with the main thrust of economic thinking since the nineteen-eighties, which has been to embrace globalization.


Posted by mjm | Permanent link | Comments

Thu Feb 25 16:57:18 EST 2016

Items of Interest

Various web links I found to be of interest recently.

  • Scientists have discovered how to 'delete' unwanted memories

    A new documentary from PBS reveals how cutting edge science enables us to 'edit' memories - and create new ones from scratch

    Watch the Program at pbs.org

    Memory is the glue that binds our mental lives. Without it, we'd be prisoners of the present, unable to use the lessons of the past to change our future. From our first kiss to where we put our keys, memory represents who we are and how we learn and navigate the world. But how does it work? Neuroscientists using cutting-edge techniques are exploring the precise molecular mechanisms of memory. By studying a range of individuals ranging--from an 11-year-old whiz-kid who remembers every detail of his life to a woman who had memories implanted--scientists have uncovered a provocative idea. For much of human history, memory has been seen as a tape recorder that faithfully registers information and replays intact. But now, researchers are discovering that memory is far more malleable, always being written and rewritten, not just by us but by others. We are discovering the precise mechanisms that can explain and even control our memories. The question is--are we ready?

  • Keeping mentally active doesn't stave off Alzheimer's disease -- only its symptoms

    Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have found that while keeping active can protect against the symptoms of Alzheimer's, it doesn't stave off the underlying disease itself. Their new study, which was published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurologists, finds that even when symptoms are not apparent, the biological markers of Alzheimer's seem to march forward despite intellectual enrichment.

  • Risk of dementia is declining, but scientists don't know why

    Dementia is on the decline, with the risk of developing it dropping 20 percent per decade since the late 1970s, according to a striking new study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

    The aging of the baby boomers means that dementia cases will surge to an all-time high -- the sheer number of older people who are living longer means that even a drop in the incidence of the disease won't solve that problem, which will exact a huge health and financial toll. But despite the popular perception that getting old invariably means people go gray and begin to lose their memory, the new data strongly suggest that, over the past few decades, the risk of developing dementia has receded for people with at least a high school education, raising hope that it may be possible to prevent one of the scariest risks of aging.

  • Maternal Obesity and Diabetes Can Both QUADRUPLE Odds of Infant Autism

    When considered alongside women of a healthy weight and with no history of diabetes, the risk of having an autistic child was found to spike up to 400%,in those with a combination of the two conditions.
    ...
    When looking at independently, diabetes or obesity during pregnancy were both found to double the likelihood of the respective mother delivering an autistic child.

  • Earth May Be a 1-in-700-Quintillion Kind of Place

    Still, the model is based on what we currently understand about the universe, and if there’s one thing we have figured out so far, it’s that we still don’t know very much. The model creates exoplanets based only on the ones we have discovered, which is an extremely small sample size that probably doesn’t provide a representative cross-section of all of the planets in existence.

  • Meet the Robin Hood of Science

    The tale of how one researcher has made nearly every scientific paper ever published available for free to anyone, anywhere in the world.

    On September 5th, 2011, Alexandra Elbakyan, a researcher from Kazakhstan, created Sci-Hub, a website that bypasses journal paywalls, illegally providing access to nearly every scientific paper ever published immediately to anyone who wants it.

  • Accepting Pain Over Comfort: Resistance to the Use of Anesthesia in the Mid-19th Century.

    News of the successful use of ether anesthesia on October 16, 1846, spread rapidly through the world. Considered one of the greatest medical discoveries, this triumph over man's cardinal symptom, the symptom most likely to persuade patients to seek medical attention, was praised by physicians and patients alike. Incredibly, this option was not accepted by all, and opposition to the use of anesthesia persisted among some sections of society decades after its introduction.
    ...
    Although it appears inconceivable that such a major medical advance would face opposition, a historical examination reveals several logical grounds for the initial societal and medical skepticism.

  • What Breaking Up the Banks Wouldn't Fix

    The banks are too big to fail. They're also too broken to perform their basic job well.

    But it wouldn't address the other major ongoing failure of our financial system, namely that banks are taking on too much risk, and in the process endangering the entire economy and necessitating occasional bailouts. When the economy gets into trouble those 10 smaller Citibanks will probably all get into trouble exactly at the same time, requiring 10 smaller bailouts, or one large bailout of the "markets."

    It's crucial to remember in all of this that banks are not just victims of economic downturns--they also cause them with their reckless behavior. To stop that government needs to address their compensation structure, not just their size. Bankers today have little financial interest in their banks' health, which leads them to irresponsible behavior.

  • Don't Break Up the Banks. They're Not Our Real Problem.

    Now that we have a new bank regulatory regime that seems to be working, we should not complicate it with breakup proposals whose ultimate implications are unclear at best. But it is absolutely crucial that the new regulations not be rolled back. The Federal Reserve should continue its annual stress tests of the large banks. Calls for restricting the power of the consumer protection board should be rejected outright.

    The central economic problem of our time is income inequality, especially the lack of personal income growth for most Americans, which was one of the underlying causes of the financial crisis. In lieu of rising incomes, credit was allowed to be democratized. Living standards were maintained only because increased credit supplemented deteriorating incomes. That helps explain, post-crisis, why United States growth is slow: Without easy credit, consumers cannot increase spending, because their incomes have fallen since 2007.

    If we want a stronger economy, improving the distribution and growth of personal income should be our focus. Breaking up the big banks will not help, and might even hurt.

  • What do economists think about buying vs renting a house?

    Housing is overrated as a financial investment. First, it's not good to have a significant share of your wealth locked into a single asset. Diversification is better and it's easier to diversify with stocks. Second, unless you are renting the basement, houses don't pay dividends. Stocks do. You can hope that your house will accumulate in value but don't count on it. Indeed, you should expect that as an investment your house will appreciate less than does the stock market. You didn't expect to get a great investment and a place to live in the meantime did you? TANSTAAFL.

  • Fear of Vengeful Gods Helped Societies Expand

    Belief in an all-seeing punitive god motivates people to be more charitable towards strangers outside their own family and community, particularly to those of similar beliefs, researchers have found.

    In an accompanying commentary, Dominic D P Johnson from the University of Oxford pointed out the study did not explore whether the influence of an all-seeing powerful punisher on fairness would extend to individuals from different or no religious persuasion.

    However, he said, the results offered "the most explicit evidence yet that belief in supernatural punishment has been instrumental in boosting cooperation in human societies."

  • Bulletproof Stockings, World's First All-Female Hasidic Rock Band

    The only difference between this Chasidic girl band and their secular counterparts is that their audience is female — at least that’s the official consensus. That’s not to say that all the women are Jewish.

    As Hasidic women, the band’s musicians cannot play for men because of the modesty prohibition of kol isha, which dictates that a Jewish man should not hear a woman sing if she is not related to him.


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Thu Feb 11 13:49:49 EST 2016

Economic Matters

Some web links related to economics and economists.

  • Why Do Americans Work So Much?

    The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a society so prosperous that people would hardly have to work. But that isn't exactly how things have played out.

    According to Friedman, "Between 1947 and 1973 the average hourly wage for nonsupervisory workers in private industries other than agriculture (restated in 2013 dollars) nearly doubled, from $12.27 to $21.23--an average growth rate of 2.1 percent per annum. But by 2013 the average hourly wage was only $20.13--a 5 percent fall from the 1973 level." For most people, then, the magic of increasing productivity stopped working around 1973, and they had to keep working just as much in order to maintain their standard of living.
    ...
    This explanation leaves an important question: If the very rich--the workers who have reaped above-average gains from the increased productivity since Keynes's time--can afford to work less, why don't they? I asked Friedman about this and he theorized that for many top earners, work is a labor of love. They are doing work they care about and are interested in, and doing more of it isn't such a burden--it may even be a pleasure. They derive meaning from their jobs, and it is an important part of how they think of themselves. And, of course, they are compensated for it at a level that makes it worth their while.

  • What's Wrong with Inequality?

    The Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS)

    Wealth inequalities too frequently result from injustice. And they too frequently lead to more injustice. That's because they allow those with wealth to influence the political process. Strategies all the way from lobbying to outright bribery enable the wealthy to safeguard existing privileges and to obtain even more special favors from politicians. As long as such favors are available, inequality will be self-sustaining and self-perpetuating.

    The real problem of inequality isn't the existence of numerical differences in wealth or gains and losses in the sizes of the pieces of a supposedly fixed pie. In the real world, the problems that rightly make ordinary people -- including both Occupy protesters and Tea Partiers -- angry are rooted in theft, privilege, and political cronyism.

  • Ideological divisions in economics undermine its value to the public

    Yet whereas their peers in the natural sciences can edit genes and spot new planets, economists cannot reliably predict, let alone prevent, recessions or other economic events. Indeed, some claim that economics is based not so much on empirical observation and rational analysis as on ideology.

  • Why Can't Economists Be Trusted? Ask an Economist

    Victoria Bateman

    So here is my own five-point plan for how we economists can bring about a revitalized, more relevant, profession.

    1. Get interdisciplinary

      Economics has cut itself off through the imperialist tendency to see itself as the king of social sciences.

    2. Look beyond the West

      In the 1980s, 36 percent of global GDP and 43 percent of global GDP growth was accounted for by emerging and developing economies. In the last five years, these numbers have increased to 56 percent and 79 percent respectively.

    3. Promote a sexual revolution

      It is only by incorporating gender that economists can reach a fuller understanding of the causes of poverty, slow growth and inequality.

    4. Focus on data

      it would also be helpful if students were properly introduced to the wealth of data available these days, and to the basics of both how to "clean it up" and how to think about causality in the context of real world scenarios.

    5. Get in touch with our human side

      Whilst some economists see the departures from the rational behavior assumed by their models as nothing more than trifling, others of us believe that it is only by accepting that humans are human that we can explain the real fundamentals of economics: the causes of boom and bust, the drivers of entrepreneurship and growth, and how people can become locked into poverty.


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