Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

It’s not how rich we are, it’s how equal we are.

This is a 16 minute * lecture by Richard Wilkinson. It is posted at TED. I am posting it here, as I can not believe this information has not received more attention now that the US is awakening from the decades long delusion of prosperity which did not and as shown in the lecture could not lead to greater justice (which implies equality) via the model of economics we have been using.
The model known by many aliases (Chicago School, Friedman, etc) has resulted in the thought that people are drowning in debt and that we have privatized the profits but socialized the losses. These are inaccurate metaphors. They are the results of the language of the delusion we have been living for 3 decades and thus by definition can not capture the truth of our condition. As the science presented in the lecture shows, if our all encompassing concern should be equality, then people are not drowning, they are dehydrating.
The dehydration is the results of privatizing security in life and socializing the risks in life. We are not “drowning” in risk or losses. We of the 99% are lacking in the substance that reduces risk. One can certainly drown from too much water, but the natural risk in life is not having too much water, it is having too little. Thus is the realization of the delusional statement “drowning in debt” and “socialized the losses”.

The lack of reduction of life’s risks is the inequality, the social injustice…the diversion from the purpose expressed in the preamble to our Constitution. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The following concluding statement from a different lecture by Professor Wilkinson summarizes the TED lecture. As you watch the lecture keep in mind the 4 goals I highlighted of the preamble and consider that they were put into a document that created an government 223 years ago this year (based on ratification). I have a greater respect for the intellect and their insight into the human experience of those who wrote and ratified our Constitution.

“For thousands of years the best way of improving the quality of human life has been to raise material living standards. We are the first generation to have got to the end of that process. No longer does economic growth improve health, happiness, or wellbeing. If we are to improve the real quality of life further, we have to direct our attention to the social environment and the quality of social relations. But rather than continuing to tackle each problem separately, by spending more on medical care, more on police, social workers and drug rehabilitation units, we now know that it is possible to improve the psychosocial wellbeing and social functioning of whole societies. The quality of social relations is built on material foundations – on the scale of the material inequalities between us.”

With information such as this research and that of the 2005 World Bank paper on what produces wealth , considering our Constitution’s preamble, we should not be struggling looking for guidance as to what direction, what path, what solution we need for our self (our self as in We the People).
*I tried to embbed the video, but for some reason all that happened was all the code being published and not the video.
(Dan here, h/t to rjs for the embed…

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Beauty-Scoring Evolution

Despite winning the big prize, evolution scores low on the scale at the Miss USA pageant:

Only Miss Massachusetts and [newly crowned Miss USA, Alyssa] Campanella stood up for Darwin.

Score one for Charles Darwin. Campanella, 21, of Los Angeles, who calls herself “a huge science geek,” says evolution should be taught in public schools.

The good news is that only three contestants were “flat out opposed”:

Miss Kentucky, home state of the Creation Museum; Miss Alaska who assures us “each of us was individually created by God for a purpose;” and Miss Alabama who doesn’t believe in evolution.

Which leaves 45 or so to be confused.

Go read the whole thing. Then make the decision: either (a) emigrate to a country that educates its beauty contestants or (b) ignore them entirely for the sake of your sanity.

(h/t Andrew Verdon—far left of the bottom picture—or available in video here)

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Not riding the luge, just working with guns on campus

UPDATE III: The Daniel Kaufmann of the Kaufmann Governance Institute lays out the details:

This misses another huge challenge altogether, totally absent in the reporting by the New York Times and other main outlets: Amy Bishop had walked into the Faculty meeting, and sat quietly for a long while during its proceedings, with a fully loaded gun…

It is as if such ease of access to guns, and ability to carry them undetected (or detected?), even by high powered scientist professors in university campus, is simply taken for granted nowadays in the U.S.

UPDATE II: Everything old is new again. (h/t Greg Mitchell)

Three of these people are, according to current reports, dead.

Details to follow elsewhere from the Guardian:

A biology professor has been charged with murder after a shooting spree at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, left three dead and three wounded.

Amy Bishop, 42, was charged yesterday with one count of capital murder, which means she could face the death penalty if convicted. Three of Bishop’s fellow biology professors were killed and three other university employees were wounded.

University spokesman Ray Garner said the three killed were Gopi K Podila, the chairman of the Department of Biological Sciences, and two other faculty members, Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson….

AH student Andrew Cole was in Bishop’s anatomy class yesterday morning and said she seemed perfectly normal.

“She’s understanding, and was concerned about students,” he said. “I would have never thought it was her.”

Bishop, a neurobiologist who studied at Harvard University, was taken in handcuffs to the county jail last night and could be heard saying: “It didn’t happen. There’s no way… They are still alive.”

Police said they were also interviewing a man as “a person of interest”.

Three others were wounded in the gunfire. They were identified as department members Joseph Leahy and Stephanie Monticello, both in a critical condition in intensive care, and Luis Cruz-Vera.

Sammie Lee Davis, whose wife was killed in the shooting, gave a phone interview to the Associated Press in which he said he was told his wife was at a meeting to discuss the tenure of another faculty member who got angry and started shooting. He said his wife had mentioned the suspect before, describing the woman as “not being able to deal with reality” and “not as good as she thought she was”.

Giving new meaning to “publish or perish.” Or, as 2slugbaits noted in comments:

Huntsville always struck me as one of those towns that has a split personality. A high end BMW on one side of the garage alongside an old Ford F-150 pickup truck with a gun rack and a Confederate flag design on the back window….A town that was essentially founded by a Nazi scientist who is praised by deeply religious Pentecostals as a great man without a past worth mentioning. Huntsville seems to have a strange effect on people. I have a lot of friends who have moved there and after a few years they are barely recognizable….It’s a peculiar blending of a transient and rootless culture that was grafted onto a deep Old South culture. That must be how you end up with guys who are PhD rocket scientists during the week and then on Sunday they believe Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs in 4004 BC. If you’re an unstable Harvard educated scientist, Huntsville is probably not a good career choice.

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Economic time/space phenomenon: Health care/Unemployment

by divorced one like Bush

While your reading this, think about the physics concept of two things occupying the same time and space. Think about the similar idea that light is both a wave and a particle. Think about the message we have been told that many very bright people (like physicist) went to Wall Street.

During my lunch break I was watching C-span, the Senate. My Senator, Mr. Whitehouse was speaking on the need to move on the extension for unemployment insurance. Two comments were made. First, that 7000 people per day are falling off the unemployment rolls since October eighth.

Seven thousand people per day! Got to wonder how many of these have no health insurance and thus will become a member of the forty four thousand group that dies because of no health insurance.

This brings up the second comment Senator Whitehouse made as a means of putting a face, a person, people into the economic equations. There is a woman, a mother of 2 children in their early teens who has been unemployed for 13 months. She is recovering from a heart attack.

Now, you do not have to take my word for this, but it is rather well understood that stress is a cause of heart disease, though stress is not selective. It can cause havoc with just about any system of the body and it usually effects more than just one simply do to the fact that our body’s systems do not function in isolation to all the others.

So just what do you think is going to happen to this mother and her family if she falls off the unemployment rolls? Does she no longer cost our society? For those who argue that people think the public option or the real solution, a single payer system means “free”, I ask: Do you theorize that this mother and her family will no longer be an effect on your personal income when her unemployment stops and thus their life is free to you?

Do you/we understand that this woman is the realization of two things occupying the same space and time, yet appearing as two different entities in the “science” of economics? This woman and her family will not be free to us! This woman will cost us regardless. It is not, I am sure, this woman or I who thinks her life should be free (as in no money needed). It’s only those who think this woman costing them is an inefficiency who think her life should be free. They mistake the loss of risk do to the accumulation of money as free from cost.

We all cost each other in some way. Our goal should be to make efficient, every one in our economic system. We should, at this time after having so many experiences with recessions/depressions, understand that the only true efficiency of an economic system is the efficiency of people’s lives. The only way to efficiency is to reduce risk collectively. But, instead we are still chasing the efficiency of money as in not having the health care cost bust a budget (but Ok’ing the war) or equating unemployment as costing us while we bail out Wall Street.

With all the bright people we are told that went from physics/mathematics to Wall Street, people who understand the ability for something to appear the same, yet different, that one thing can occupy two places at once yet have two things occupy the same space and time, how can they/we not understand that an economy is not and can not be discussed, manipulated or changed without a basic acceptance that it is one living and breathing, energy producing and expending entity? It’s efficiency, as in the conservation of energy law is found in people, not money. An economy’s efficiency is calculated by the accumulated reduction of risk, not increase in money. Counting, manipulating, playing with the money is like playing with the energy and ignoring the matter.

This woman Senator Whitehouse talked about and her situation is the phenomenon realized of the Theory of Everything which Einstein went to his death trying to solve . Einstein was working in the wrong science. Had he been in economics he would have succeed in proving this Theory I believe. But, if not him, then certainly John Nash should be able to recognize such. It is his theory that takes into consideration everyone’s decisions. We’re talking integration. Systems. Ecosystems, physiologic systems, physics, economic systems all described in mathematics. Math, the thing those people on Wall Street and the Chicago School (or is it the lake school?)are suppose to actually understand.

For our mother in this story who has heart disease, the real cure is not going to be found in health care. For her, solving the health care insurance problem is only a stop gap measure which does not maximize the efficiency of her life such that her cost to us is as close to free as it can be. To accomplish such, she needs money in hand. Only money in hand can allow her the ability to make the type of decisions that will reduce her risk and thus cost to us. Simultaneously, solving just the money in hand will not solve her health issues. She is one entity in different economic time/space. We can accept such or, we can keep ignoring the realm in which the solution to the Theory of Everything is found and keep treating economics as physics: A science with a mathematical dichotomy between the small and large.

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Darwin Strauss and Popper

Robert Waldmann

Neoconservatives have expressed sympathy for “intelligent design theory,” that is, creationism. This is well documented by Ronald Bailey’s article in “Reason on line.” Bailey discusses why neoconservatives might claim they don’t believe in evolution by natural selection even though there is no scientific basis for that view.

update: link corrected thanks to VtCodger in comments.

Mainly, he suspects that it is a Strussian “noble lie,” roughly that they believe that fundamentalist religion is needed for the good of socieity, so they pretend to agree with it. He mentions, but is not very fascinated by, the idea that this is partisan hackery — that neoconservatives think the interests of the Republican party would be harmed if they didn’t bend their knees before the fundamentalists. Of course the problem is that once one decides to lie, it is very hard to decide exactly how noble to be about it.

He doesn’t mention the collosal arrogance of people who assume that biologists don’t know anything relevant about biology which they don’t know. I think this is always a risk in people coming from law or social sciences. They just have no clue how much evidence lies behind the claims of natural scientists and assume that they can bluff their way past biologists as they have successfully bluffed their way past say economomists.

In the second part of his article, Bailey argues that there is no scientific case against evolution by natural selection. Naturally it would come first, one normally doesn’t question someone’s honesty until one has exausted other options (although the NeoCons he quotes are pretty up front about how they start with the conclusion and work back to the evidence). I think the editorial decision makes sense as most Reason on Line readers don’t really need to be convinced that modern biology is not all a big mistake.

I think Bailey’s arguments for Darwin are weaker than his earlier analysis—not because he doesn’t make a convincing case, but because he buries the lede. Basically he has a theoretical disagreement with a mathematician, then speculates about the origin of life, then asks if one can be both a Christian and a Darwinist (hint yes) and only then discusses some of the evidendence for evolution by natural selection.

But Berlinski stoutly declares in Commentary that he is no creationist. He claims merely to be engaged in critiquing the failures of Darwinism. Berlinski is particularly savage about what he regards as Darwinism’s tautological character. “Time and again, biologists do explain the survival of an organism by reference to its fitness and the fitness of an organism by reference to its survival, the friction between the two concepts kindling nothing more than the observation that some creatures have been around for a very long time.”

In Berlinski’s view, evolutionary theory simply says that the ones that survive are the ones that survive. But that is not quite right. But that is not quite right. Darwinian natural selection sifts for useful variations among mutations, thus natural selection generates increased fitness, not just preserving the fittest. This process generates new species, species B being the descendant of earlier species A. This claim is clearly more than a tautology.

Wrong Bailey, the way to argue that something isn’t a tautology is to point out a testable implication. Instead Bailey claims the stated theory is not quite right because it didn’t include the word “species” even this explanation is incorrect (see below*) but the main thing is that the theory of evolution by natural selection has testable implications because organisms have detectable features which don’t make any detectable difference.

The evidence for the theory became vastly vastly enormously gigantically even more immense than it was already when biologists began sequencing DNA. They found patterns explained by the idea some sequences don’t matter and drift faster than others which do. Based on those sequences they can redraw the family tree of living things and lo and behold it almost exactly matches the tree drawn based on other features and based on fossils. Oh and one can check that the sequences that don’t seem to matter don’t matter and, so far, they don’t. Before sequencing the evidence was weaker but already overwhelming based on traights which didn’t seem important.

There might be another explanation for these facts, but no one has ever pretended to have one. Instead critics of biology like Berlinski and Kristol just ignore the evidence entirely. Bailey mentions it long after speculating at length about the origin of life (OK and I began indignantly typing before I read that far).

Berlinksi’s claim is, I think, false as a matter of fact. Biologists do not claim that the survival of this or that species is evidence in favor of evolutionary biology. The evidence all concerns trivial things which are considered evidence of evolutionary history exactly because they have tiny or zero effect on fitness.

The quote of Berlinski (all I have read of his writings) does not disprove the hypothesis that he thinks that modern evolutionary biology is completely summed up by the phrase “the survival of the fitest.” That is, indeed, a tautology. It is indeed part of the subtitle of “The Origin of Species.” But I mean, to be fair to Darwin, one should at least read the full subtitle. Oh and maybe glance at the book. And to be fair to evolutionary biology, one would have to note that much evidence has been collected since then (not to mention the theory has developed).

I have Popper in the title, because Popper did the same damn thing in “The Open Society and Its Enemies.” Popper at least asserted that something wasn’t there — predictions which have since been confirmed, explanations of puzzling facts, you know non tautological science — which absolutely wasn’t there. Popper, I think, assumed that he was brilliant enough to know what is written in a book after reading part (not all) of its subtitle.

* I think a biologist tried to explain this to Bailey and he didn’t get it. The non tautological point is that the descendents of species A might belonge to species B and C two different species present at the same time. Now the claim that two different organisms belong to different species is *not* mere terminology — it has an operational definition — orgnaisms from two different species can not produce fertile offspring descended from both of them.

If evolution were always new species A replacing now extinct species B, then all we would know is that we choose to use different words for organisms of type A and B. Without a time machine, we can’t test if they are two different species.

Now “survival of the fitest” does not logically imply that one species can, over time, split into two. This is a radical idea. It is also, in principle, experimentally testable, although the experiment will take a long time.

I personally think the experiment is under way and it is already clear that one species can split into 2 much more quickly than evolutionary biologists imagined. The experiment is raising fruit flies in laboratories. They are used to study genetics. Normal non mutant flies are called “wild type” but their ancestors haven’t been wild for about a century now. They have been bread in labs from each other.

Interestingly when an actual wild male captured in the wild is mated with a lab bread “wild type” female, something happens called “hybrid disgenisis” which means the offspring are messed up. It is known that this is caused by a transposon (basically a very very benign virus) which keeps itself inactive in the genome of wild fruit flies by making a repressor protein. None of that protein gets into spermatazoa so if the transposon is in one of the male’s chromasomes it makes copies of itself and spreads them around inside the chromasomes of the fertilized egg.

Evidently the transposon spread through the wild population after the ancestors of the lab flies were captured.

Some of the offspring survive this process. But already there is a barrier between wild and lab fruit flies after about one century. One can imagine that another hundred years or so, wild males will not be able to produce fertile offspring with lab bread females (just a few more such latent virus like things would do it).

Now to get two whole species it has to be blocked the other way too and the lab population is very isolated (also from other insects) and divided among labs so I mean maybe experimental speciation won’t occur in my grandchildren’s lifetime. But it’s really close.

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No Pi for You!

I promise to try posting more this weekend, but this one is just too good to pass up.

Since most people don’t know it beyond three to six digits, today, 14 March (14.03)—er, oops, March 14 (3.14)—has been officially designated “Pi Day.”

Ten Republicans voted against the (purely symbolic) designation:

  1. Chaffetz
  2. Flake
  3. Heller
  4. Johnson (IL)
  5. Miller (FL)
  6. Neugebauer
  7. Paul
  8. Pence
  9. Poe (TX)
  10. Shuster

In fairness, I note that 30 Representatives (24 Dems, 6 Reps, and the total only comes to 431 so a few bodies appear to be vanished) did not vote, but 10 went to the explicit effort to signal their opposition to the motion, including Mike Pence, who is from the only state that ever did make a concerted effort to define Pi as 3:

In 1897 the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure redefining the area of a circle and the value of pi….The bill died in the state Senate.

Happy Pi Day!

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Everything Old is New Again (Space Science Edition)

An article in Wired reminds us that space science can (and should) be relevant to terrestrial issues (*):

There is a new challenge, however, that could ensure NASA remains relevant over its next 50 years: global environmental change, primarily human-induced global warming.

Jonathan Trent of the NASA Ames Green Team, a research group trying to bring NASA’s expertise to bear on energy and environmental problems on Earth, put it poetically.

“We are the crew of a spaceship we don’t understand,” Ames [sic] said. “The radical technology we need is not just for us, but the life forms on Earth with us.”

This seemed oddly familiar. To the way-back machine NYT archives!

WHEN President Bush outlined his vision of America’s future in space last week, Mars and the Moon outshone another initiative that the President said was critical to the space program: a 25-year effort using a new network of satellites to understand how the Earth’s atmosphere, seas and living creatures function as a global system.

Yes, that’s President George H. W. Bush, and the story appeared on July 25, 1989. This was called “Mission to Planet Earth” at the time, though in the Clinton era it became the très-New Democrat “Earth Science Enterprise” and what did those diabolical Clintonistas do? Let’s jump ahead to 1998:

The craft’s surveillance target is not some distant world, but rather the home planet of those who built it. AM-1 is to be the flagship of a new generation of earth satellites called the Earth Observing System, or EOS, which in turn is the centerpiece of what until recently has been called Mission to Planet Earth: a 15-year effort to subject the interlinked workings of the atmosphere, oceans and land surfaces to detailed scrutiny from space.

It should be easy to guess at the gestational difficulties for the project:

As conceived at the start of the 1990’s, EOS was to consist of an elaborate array of six 15-ton satellites, each carrying 12 sensing instruments… to be launched over a 12-year period beginning in 1998. A complementary series of smaller satellites was to be sent into orbit starting somewhat earlier. The cost of the program, including operational expenses, was projected at $17 billion by 2000 and $30 billion by 2020.

But the project never found solid support. When Mr. Goldin became the NASA Administrator, he set out to make the space agency’s programs ”smaller, cheaper, faster, better,” and EOS was a prime target of his intended reforms…

[T]he program came under attack from Congressional Republicans who charged that its purpose was to push a global-warming agenda.

EOS survived that challenge, but was redesigned in accordance with Mr. Goldin’s philosophy.

Then comes the other George Bush:

The two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA’s earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, has experienced enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission.

As a result, the panel said, the United States will not have the scientific information it needs in the years ahead to analyze severe storms and changes in Earth’s climate unless programs are restored and funding made available.

“NASA’s budget has taken a major hit at the same time that NOAA’s program has fallen off the rails,” said panel co-chairman Berrien Moore III of the University of New Hampshire. “This combination is very, very disturbing, and it’s coming at the very time that we need the information most.”

After all, it isn’t as if the Bush Administration has ever sought to suppress politically inconvenient information.

(*) Not that there’s anything wrong with space science for its own sake.

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Climate control issues

Alternet, a leftist blog, carries this interview with Dr. Jansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA’s premiere climate research center. So might that make it slightly left of center?

DR. JAMES HANSEN: Well, my concern is general with both Republican and Democratic administrations. They both feel that they can control what scientists say to the public. So their offices of public affairs in the science agencies are headed, in general, by political appointees, and they review the press releases before they go out. So, it doesn’t really make sense in a democracy. The public should be honestly informed. And then, of course, the publications are allowed to make the decisions, and they don’t have to follow exactly what the science says. There are other considerations that they have. But they shouldn’t influence what is presented, the scientific evidence. And I object to that, regardless of which administration is in power.

I posit that the Bush administration has been much better at bending the bureacracy to its political needs because of breadth of coverage, and the instituting positions of political screening in every department, albeit in a variety of guises (I have written on this several times).

I for one will be closely watching to see if any of the apparautus is dismantled with a new president. I am not optimistic, and am sure it will not be thorough.

Update: ‘ former’ was deleted

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Science and regulation

The Union of Concerned Scientists has just published a paper on science and governmental regulatory bodies and policy advisory panels.

The United States has enjoyed prosperity and health in large part because of its strong and sustained commitment to independent science. As the nation facesnew challenges at home and growing competitiveness abroad, the need for a robust federal scientific enterprise remains critical. Unfortunately,an epidemic of political interference in federal science threatens this legacy, promising serious and wide-ranging consequences.Political interference in science has penetrated deeply into the culture and practices of federal agencies. These systemic problems cannot be resolved quickly or simply. Leadership and an unwavering commitment to scientific integrity from our next president, continued oversight from the legislative branch, and the persistent and energetic engagement of many different stakeholders are critical. The balance of poweramong the three branches of government should be restored, to enable each to playits part in keeping science independent.This interference in science threatens ournation’s ability to respond to complex challenges to public health, the environment, and national security. It risks demoralizing the federal scientific workforce and raises the possibility of lastingharm to the federal scientific enterprise. Most important, it betrays public trust in our government and undermines the democratic principles upon which this nation was founded.

Update: MG sends additional links here and here.

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