We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

Head Start, which provides preschool programs to poor families, is a prime example of the Senate committee’s true attitude toward evidence-based decision-making. In January, the Health and Human Services Department released a study of Head Start’s overall impact. The conclusions were disturbing. By the end of first grade, the study found, Head Start graduates were doing no better than students who didn’t attend Head Start. “No significant impacts were found for math skills, pre-writing, children’s promotion, or teacher report of children’s school accomplishments or abilities in any year,” the report concluded.

And how did the Senate panel react to this dismal evidence? They set aside $8.2 billion for Head Start in 2011, almost a billion dollars more than in 2010. Of course, the fact that Congress spends billions of dollars each year on unproven programs does not itself argue that the government should start spending hundreds of millions of new dollars on new unproven programs. But it does undercut the argument that federal education dollars should be reserved only for conclusively proven initiatives.

- Paul Tough in an op-ed in the New York Times.

…via Steve Sailer, who comments:

That’s pretty funny when you stop and think about it.

The veil as a test of liberty

I am watching Newsnight with my wife. Kirsty Wark does the intro – something like: “When a Syrian university bans the niqab on campus, why is Britain defending it?”

“Good point,” says Sue.

“Because we’re not bloody Syria!” I yell, “thank God!”

Glad to see a fully veiled Moslem woman interviewed in the street making exactly the same point.

An avertible catastrophe

I have only just come across this article by Lawrence Solomon in the (Ontario) Financial Post of June 26 – about the five-star lunacy of the US government’s response to offers of help in cleaning up the mess. Highlights:

Three days after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began on April 20, the Netherlands offered the U.S. government ships equipped to handle a major spill, one much larger than the BP spill that then appeared to be underway. …

…the Dutch also offered to prepare for the U.S. a contingency plan to protect Louisiana’s marshlands with sand barriers …

… The U.S. government responded with “Thanks but no thanks … By May 5, … the U.S. had also turned down offers of help from 12 other governments, most of them with superior expertise and equipment

… Ironically, the superior European technology runs afoul of U.S. environmental rules. The voracious Dutch vessels, for example, continuously suck up vast quantities of oily water, extract most of the oil and then spit overboard vast quantities of nearly oil-free water. Nearly oil-free isn’t good enough for the U.S. regulators, who have a standard of 15 parts per million — if water isn’t at least 99.9985% pure, it may not be returned to the Gulf of Mexico.

When ships in U.S. waters take in oil-contaminated water, they are forced to store it. … In other words, U.S. ships have mostly been removing water from the Gulf, requiring them to make up to 10 times as many trips to storage facilities where they off-load their oil-water mixture, an approach Koops calls “crazy.”

The Americans, overwhelmed by the catastrophic consequences of the BP spill, finally relented and took the Dutch up on their offer — but only partly. Because the U.S. didn’t want Dutch ships working the Gulf, the U.S. airlifted the Dutch equipment to the Gulf and then retrofitted it to U.S. vessels. And rather than have experienced Dutch crews immediately operate the oil-skimming equipment, to appease labour unions the U.S. postponed the clean-up operation to allow U.S. crews to be trained.

A catastrophe that could have been averted is now playing out. With oil increasingly reaching the Gulf coast, the emergency construction of sand berms to minimize the damage is imperative. Again, the U.S. government priority is on U.S. jobs, with the Dutch asked to train American workers rather than to build the berms. …

Draw your own conclusions.

Made in Critical Land

Joe Kaplinsky, who is a biophysicist just completing his PhD at Imperial College, gave a talk on the state of the climate issue at Christian Michel’s salon the other evening. His main point was that there has been a shift in the debate between the 1990s, when the environmentalists were down on the supposed uncertainties of science, and today, when their refrain is “the science is settled”.

Correspondingly it is the sceptics/deniers/denialists/contrarians who now harp on the theme of the uncertainties of science. Joe wants to damn both their houses, but I was not very clear why from his talk, and I think the same went for most of his listeners. I got a better idea of what he thinks when I found a review of his book, which I mention below.

Joe quoted from a wide range of writers. There was one amusing episode that I had not known about. Frank Luntz, an adviser to Bush, was reported as saying that:

“the scientific debate is closing against us.” His advice, however, is to emphasize that the evidence is not complete. “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled,” he writes, “their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue.”

Bruno Latour, distinguished Gallic “theorist of science”, was disconcerted. He had been arguing all this time that the notion of science as an objective and impartial process of discovery is bogus, and now that self-same thesis was being used by a hated Bushist to draw entirely the ‘wrong’ conclusions. “Was I wrong?” he asked himself. I have dug up his self-flagellation – in an article called “Why has critique run out of steam?” This is rather a long quote, but it is too good to miss:

Do you see why I am worried? I myself have spent sometimes in the past trying to show the “lack of scientific certainty” inherent in the construction of facts. I too made it a “primary issue.” But I did not exactly aim at fooling the public by obscuring the certainty of a closed argument–or did I? After all, I have been accused of just that sin. Still, I’d like to believe that, on the contrary, I intended to emancipate the public from a prematurely naturalized objectified fact. Was I foolishly mistaken? Have things changed so fast?

… entire Ph.D programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always the prisoner of language, that we always speak from one standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we meant? Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not?

… Maybe I am taking conspiracy theories too seriously, but I am worried to detect, in those mad mixtures of knee-jerk disbelief, punctilious demands for proofs, and free use of powerful explanation from the social neverland, many of the weapons of social critique. Of course conspiracy theories are an absurd deformation of our own arguments, but, like weapons smuggled through a fuzzy border to the wrong party, these are our weapons nonetheless. In spite of all the deformations, it is easy to recognize, still burnt in the steel, our trade mark: MADE IN CRITICALLAND.

Hilarious. → Continue reading: Made in Critical Land

Samizdata punning quote of the day

The ultimate quack remedy

- Simon Singh on the Today Programme a few minutes ago, describing how France’s biggest-selling homoeopathic flu remedy, earning zillions of dollars, is made from the heart of a single Muscovy duck per year.

None of the above

I always go to the polls. I dutifully scrawl some libertarian slogan on the ballot. Some vote-counter reads it, puts my paper in the “spoiled” pile, and – who knows? – maybe has their life changed by a Damascene conversion to the cause of liberty, years later.

A pitiful exercise? Perhaps. But I could not bear to stay away and be thought apathetic.

I have given up trying to make my nearest and dearest understand. She says I am opting out – or sitting on the fence – or I think I don’t make a difference.

I try to explain that my vote makes precisely as much difference as hers: namely, infinitesimally more than zero. Her vote and mine are symbolic acts.

My explanation is useless too.

Suppose there were a “None of the above” box on our ballot papers? Should I use it? Or would that be validating the whole rotten system? Do those who stay right away and watch the movie channel making a more valid protest?

Abstaining even from a “None of the above” box would be an act of exquisite hyper-rejection. Hmmm … attractive.

The spectacle

An hour after the polls closed, and the BBC has tortured its exit poll to death. They keep on talking it down, because they can’t believe that the LIb Dems can really have lost seats, as the exit poll says.

A single election result is in. A rock-solid Labour majority has been slightly dented by the Conservative swing. Vernon Bogdanor extrapolates it to say that the Conservatives will get an overall majority.

The limited pleasure of the election broadcast will fade soon. I enjoyed the first few minutes as the BBC’s ludicrously garish setup battled with good old-fashioned gremlins. One panel of a giant bar graph of the projected seats vanished for several minutes. Michael Gove’s artificially rejuvenated mug loomed at us while his mike failed utterly. Jeremy Paxman bellowed at an interviewee as if he could make him respond faster that way, for all the world as if he’d never encountered satellite delay before.

Mariella Frostrup thinks it’s terrible that we’re all in (strangely pronounced) thrall to the markets, and what a pity we haven’t invented a better and more humane way to manage our finances. Watching her say that makes me want to go to bed, and not in a good way.

Oh bloody hell. Jeremy Vine is knocking down huge trains of CGI dominoes for some reason. Generations yet unborn will injure themselves laughing at the Beeb’s presentation tonight.

From the noggin of the greybeard

That James Lovelock is a strange case, as discussed by Natalie here on Monday. After hearing him on the Today programme the other day, I had to interrupt my bath and rush off to make notes, yelling to my wife as I went that he’s an old charlatan. The immediate provocation was the claim that’s bothered me in the past and had me quarrelling with fellow members of a science journalists’ mailing-list – the claim that global warming could cut the world’s population to a billion. I don’t know where he got this from, but it’s fixed in his head now – he keeps saying it. He talks of the scientific sin against the Holy Ghost being to fudge the data, but there’s another mortal sin too – lending the weight of your authority to pronouncements made in a field in which you’re not actually expert. Calculating the demographic effects of such a geophysical change, if it’s possible at all, would be the province of a team of – what? – geoscientists, economists, geographers, sociologists (sociologists – right, yeah, duh, like they’re really going to be any use – as the young people say). It’s not something that can just be dreamed up in the noggin of an old greybeard who did some useful geophysics decades ago and then got deified for the barmy green non-hypothesis of Gaia.

When I read the notes of his Guardian interview published by Leo Hickman on the paper’s environment blog, I found the charlatanism mixed with all sort of stuff that sounds superficially congenial to libertarians. But it’s clear that he’s got no clear ideological compass to make sense of it all. He seems to think that climate science is in a mess because all these terrible oiks were churned out by state-funded education instead of the right sort of chap, like himself, that we had in the good old days. And the journalists are to blame too, presumably for demanding sensationalist answers from those naturally bashful creatures, the climatologists.

Whereas the journalists, when they do their job right, are part of the solution – part of the scrutiny that all specialists need.

Non-rumble at the RI

Friday’s debate at the RI turned into a soggy mess of a love-in, but it held no comfort for alarmists. The very limited point of discussion was “Has Global Warming increased the toll of disasters?” Audience members repeatedly asked where the points of difference among the three speakers lay, and they were certainly hard to see. Everyone seemed to agree that the answer to the discussion question was a clear and resounding “there is no evidence for that whatever.”

The speakers were Roger Pielke Jr, of the University of Colorado, Robert Muir-Wood of the consultancy Risk Management Solutions, and Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute at the LSE. The meeting was chaired by the amiable James Randerson of the Guardian (standing in for David Shukman of the BBC). He polled the audience beforehand on whether we believed that global warming had indeed increased the toll of disasters, a question that had apparently been dumped on him by someone else. After a hilarious quarter of an hour of having the question taken apart by stroppy audience members, who wanted to know whether by answering it they were committed to belief in warming, he finally had to force a vote. Most were don’t-knows. At the end of the discussion, when the same vote was taken, many of the don’t-knows had switched to the ‘no increasing cost’ position; they could not really do anything else, on the evidence presented. → Continue reading: Non-rumble at the RI

The climate-change climate

I am going with my son to the Royal Institution on Friday to hear the debate between Roger Pielke, Jr, and Bob Ward, of LSE’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (Bob Ward recently starred in a Samizdata post by Brian Micklethwait). The debate is titled ‘Has Global Warming increased the toll of disasters?’ Not hard to guess Bob Ward’s answer. A flavour of Pielke’s position is given by this extract from a Wall Street Journal opinion piece (not by him) from last June. According to the WSJ, a report by the Global Humanitarian Forum (prop. Kofi Annan) warns:

that climate change-induced disasters, such as droughts and floods, kill 315,000 each year and cost $125 billion, numbers it says will rise to 500,000 dead and $340 billion by 2030. Adding to the gloom, Mr. Annan predicts ‘mass starvation, mass migration, and mass sickness’ unless countries agree to ‘the most ambitious international agreement ever negotiated’ at a meeting this year in Copenhagen.

To which Pielke Jr replies:

… ‘To get around the fact that there has been no attribution of the relationship of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions and disasters,’… the Annan ‘report engages in a very strange comparison of earthquake and weather disasters in 1980 and 2005. The first question that comes to mind is, why? They are comparing phenomena with many ‘moving parts’ over a short time frame, and attributing 100% of the resulting difference to human-caused climate change. This boggles the mind.’

Doubtless he will be boggling our minds on Friday along these lines.

I did not realize untill I started writing this post that RPj and Ward had such a long history with each other. Just lately there has been massive to-ing and fro-ing between the two of them on RPj’s blog. Ward helped with the notorious report produced by the boss of the Grantham Institute, the Baron Stern of Brentford. The report just took a serious hit from Pielke, for silently correcting an important number in a table after publication:

Interestingly, it looks like Stern chose to change the report rather than issue an Errata. Either way (though an errata would have been more proper from an academic standpoint), the issue lies not with a typo, but what problems are revealed once the typo is corrected. … Correcting the typo does not make the analysis correct, just obviously wrong… None of this excuses altering a published government report quietly and without notice, after its publication and wide dissemination.

Bob Ward does not hesitate to use the ‘vested interest’ smear against opposition. There is an interesting piece on the Grantham Institute’s own vested interests at Climate Resistance.

This is going to be interesting. What a change there has been in the climate-change climate these last few months!

Lazygate

A tiny but brazen piece of churnalism has just amused me in a post on WITsend, a blog on ComputerWeekly.com that is ‘…a place for women in IT…tackling issues facing women and other minorities working in technology’. The post, dated 12 January and headed ‘Frances Allen: first woman to win Turing Award’, begins

Frances Allen was has become the first woman to receive the prestigious Turing Award since it was set up in 1966.

Why did the author first write ‘has become’ and later correct it to ‘was’? And why did she draw attention to the change by retaining the struck-through words? The explanation is at the end:

Correction: this story is true, but it’s not new! Allen received the award in 2007, no idea why I got sent a press release on it now.. sorry!

So she took a single press release, and without even the slightest cross-checking – not even a quick glance in Wikipedia – she generated her blog post. Wish I could be so fluent. I have been all over the Net in the course of checking this and that, just for this tiny squib.

In case any reader does not know the term, ‘churnalism’ is the journalistic practice of recycling press releases as news with only the minimum of rewriting. It is a Bad Thing, and the blog author should care, because it is one of those issues facing women and other minorities working in technology. And men. And majorities. And people not working in technology.

When this woman got egg on her face, she did not even have the grace to be embarrassed by the exposure of her sloth. Instead of making the change silently, hoping no-one would notice, she flaunted this decline in standards (can you see what’s coming? Yes …) She should have hidden the decline. Phil Jones could have given her some pointers.

A Kurdish-Swedish perspective

I would like my first post on Samizdata to be something of lasting utility, and a link to a fact-packed post on a new blog might be just the thing. Super-Economy (wonderfully subtitled ‘Kurdish-Swedish perspectives on the American Economy’) kicked off with a broadside against the egregious Paul Krugman. Krugman had said in his New York Times column that the US has lessons to learn from the EU because the latter’s growth has been as good – well, almost – as that of the US recently.

He demonstrated this by comparing US GDP levels with – incredible but true – three European cities: London, Paris and Frankfurt. Tino, the blogger, comes back not just with the obvious rebuttal of a comparison between a country and three of the world’s wealthiest cities but with tables comparing the US, its individual states and the countries of the EU. You can find, for example, that the UK ranks below Missouri in terms of GDP per head – but at least we are above Alabama, which beats France. In fact the UK has a GDP per head of $35,669 as compared with $45,489 for the US. The average for the EU15 is $33,452.

Tino also tabulates GDP per head of various ethnic groups in Europe and their transplanted kin in the US. The average Brit is two-thirds as productive as the average ‘British-American’. The ethnic angle is what would have interested Steve Sailer, where I saw Tino’s blog linked (Sailer is indispensable – one of the few bloggers whom I read every day).

The differences Tino lists are huge enough to overwhelm any cavilling about definitions or methods. File the tables and use them as intellectual ammunition against anyone who argues that left-leaning Europe is better at capitalism than the US is.