Monday, June 28, 2010

Quotes of the day

BTW, any time someone wields the term ’science’ as a weapon, you pretty much know they are an intellectual philistine. Am I being defensive yet?--Scott Sumner

There's lots of fun data issues and rhetorical strategy presented in [A.W. Mortford's The Hockey Stick Illusion] that highlights how real science is done. You have two sides with pretty strong end-views--global warming is unprecedented, or not--and while both claim to simply be interested in the objective truth, after 10+ years invested in one conclusion it defies credulity to think a researcher can address this question objectively any more. Basically, we have two sets of partisan scientists presenting their case, like paid lawyers. The winner of this debate will be those who fooled themselves the least. Like a financial economist rigging his backtest, this may generate a publication but in the long run the data are what they are, and its best to have the facts on your side because eventually the facts win. Very few are committing conscious fraud, but rather, fraud of the more common sort, that of where a seemingly innocuous inaccuracy saves tons of explanation in their mind. As Oscar Wilde noted, education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. Big debates are usually not centered on not singular facts or theories, but their many observations, knowing which are relevant, which are not. Knowing how to weight correctly is mainly an exercise in meticulous research and wisdom, and it especially helps to have correct or at least popular a priori prejudices.--Eric Falkenstein

From his investigations [David] Goodstein found three risk factors present in nearly all cases of scientific fraud. The perpetrators, he writes, “1. Were under career pressure; 2. Knew, or thought they knew, what the answer to the problem they were considering would turn out to be if they went to all the trouble of doing the work properly; and 3. Were working in a field where individual experiments are not expected to be precisely reproducible.”--Michael Shermer

The psychologist Dan Ariely, with three colleagues, studied internet dating and discovered that people spend 12 hours a week searching and e-mailing, but only two hours a week on dates. Dan Ariely blames the dating websites for being poorly designed. I blame you.--Tim Harford

... the economist might contend, is that one element of my self-interest, in addition to enjoying a leisurely meal, and plenty of sleep, and the ability to go away on vacations without worrying about who will watch the youngsters, is not becoming (remaining?) a jerk. Kids certainly don't guarantee that won't happen, but they help mitigate the risk. And if we conceptualize that self-interest, in turn, as happiness, we're right back where we started. But I wonder if the questions would change. Instead of asking parents and non-parents whether they are happy right now, we might ask whether they are becoming more like the people they want to be. And then we might see children not as factors that may or may not be contributing to our happiness, but as opportunities to practice what most of us -- perhaps me most of all -- need to do more often, which is to put someone else before ourselves.--Tony Woodlief


Because of overstaffing, the U.S. Postal Service selects 1,125 employees per day to sit in empty rooms. They are not allowed to work, read, play cards, watch television, or do anything. This costs $50 million annually.--Heritage Foundation

Do you think that the [proposed consumer financial protection] agency would have had the willingness and political clout to tell low-income and minority home buyers that they could not afford the houses that lenders were willing to lend them money to buy? Of course, we have no way of knowing. My bet is that the agency would not have taken on this skunk-at-the-garden-party role. But, again, I'm wasting my breath.--Arnold Kling

Poland is the only country in the European Union which did not have a recession during 2009, as shown in this chart. And among all the OECD countries, Poland had the best real growth performance in 2009. ... What are the reasons for Poland's extraordinary performance in 2009? Good economic policy had much to do with it. As with some other emerging market economies Poland was in a much better macroeconomic position in 2009 than it was 10 years ago. It kept its inflation rate and its debt levels low, limited its borrowing in foreign currencies, and accumulated a large amount of foreign reserves. It also did not overact to the financial crisis, despite urging of many inside and outside of Poland to do more to stimulate the economy with discretionary fiscal policy. By not overacting it prevented the kind of panic seen in other countries.--John Taylor

What made reform possible was the depth of the crisis Canada faced, the extent to which the Canadian electorate demanded an end to irresponsible public finances, and the degree to which the entire political class responded. Governments at all levels then moved on a broad front, making it clear that no established interests would be exempted from contributing to the cost of slaying the deficit, lowering both taxes and the debt, and making the Canadian economy an outperformer. Every one of these lessons is entirely applicable to the United States today. America's budget mess can and will be fixed when the public demands action and the political class decides to set aside rancorous and extreme partisanship in pursuit of a robust economy, job growth, lower taxes, and focused government. Call it the Canadian way.--BRIAN LEE CROWLEY, JASON CLEMENS, NIELS VELDHUIS

When the Obama administration came into office, the American economy was one very sick patient. To complicate matters, the financial crisis and the recession that ensued did not neatly follow the pattern of past downturns — instead combining a collapse of the housing market, a credit crisis, failures of large financial firms, and an assortment of other worrisome symptoms. Still, the new administration's economic advisors had no choice but to diagnose the problem and propose solutions. There was, however, little room for trial and error: Their only laboratory was the very economy they were seeking to heal, and time was of the essence, as markets continued to plunge, jobs swiftly evaporated, and bad news mounted. In an economic assessment they released in January 2009, President Obama's advisors concluded that, if they did nothing, the unemployment rate would reach 9% — its highest level since 1983. So they developed their medicine: an ambitious plan to stimulate the economy by spending a great deal of taxpayer money. According to their estimates, that stimulus would help keep the unemployment rate from exceeding 8%. Today, however, the unemployment rate is nearly 10%. Clearly, things have not gone as the president's advisors expected. For economists, this raises some obvious questions. Why were the administration's projections off the mark? What should their experience teach us regarding stimulus policies in future downturns? And what can the government do now, as unemployment remains very high, to help the patient heal faster? Trying to resolve these questions illustrates not only the difficulty confronting policymakers in a crisis, but also the inherent limitations of the economics profession — limitations that both economists and politicians would be wise to keep in mind.--Greg Mankiw

By 2085, the White House says, our deficit will be running at a staggering -62% of GDP. Almost half of the government expenses in those days are projected to be interest payments on the debt we've racked up over the intervening years. Most of the rest are the ballooning costs of our entitlement programs (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security). Only a tiny percent of the spending, meanwhile, is what is described as "discretionary" spending--on schools, defense, and other stuff that people normally associate with government. That, of course, is why everyone is so freaked about those entitlement programs. And the fact that these projections are put together by an organization that has a vested interest in NOT freaking people out is even more scary. So, we admit it: We're freaked out.--Henry Blodget

In her book “The Overspent American,” Juliet Schor cites research that shows that “the more people watch television, the more they think American households have tennis courts, private planes, convertibles, car telephones, maids and swimming pools. Heavy watchers also overestimate the portion of the population who are millionaires, have had cosmetic surgery and belong to a private gym.” Rich reality-TV, in other words, distorts our own reality of wealth. What is the solution? Clearly, the shows attract audiences, so they will remain a part of the media landscape. But perhaps every show should carry a financial warning like: “The wealth you are about to see is largely fictional or borrowed. Any resemblance to actual wealth, earnings or investments is entirely coincidental. Oh, and please, don’t try this at home.”--Robert Frank

Hundreds of millions of people want to move here, landlords want to rent to them, employers want to hire them - but the law won't allow it. Contrary to my conservative friend, then, libertarians aren't the ones with a blind spot. He is. While restrictions on exclusion are occasionally irksome, they rarely ruin lives. Immigration laws, in contrast, usually condemn their victims to life - and often early death - in the Third World. Libertarians rightly emphasize the freedom to associate, because the status quo's restrictions on exclusion are minor and mild - and the status quo's restrictions on association are massive and monstrous.--Bryan Caplan

FIFA will censor World Cup match action being shown on giant screens inside the stadium after replays of Argentina's disputed first goal against Mexico fueled arguments on the pitch.--AP

... having more scoring [in soccer] would reduce the luck factor. It seems as though every game I read about, including Germany-England and Argentina-Mexico yesterday, is decided by a lucky goal or a wrongly-allowed goal or a wrongly-disallowed goal. It makes me think--why doesn't this happen in baseball or football?--Arnold Kling

Here are a few changes I might propose in soccer to increase its entertainment value and reduce the randomness of the outcomes.

1. Free substitution. Allow fresh players into the game. This will make for more aggressive and faster play, which should lead to more scoring. Free substitution will also allow better strategic use of players with special skills.
2. Shorten the field. The ball will then spend more time within striking distance of the goal.
3. Increase the size of the goal. The most direct way to increase scoring.
4. Slope the field. Have the field slope toward the nets, both from the sides of the field and the center of the field. This will keep the ball closer to the goal area. Furthermore, this change will lead to a host of new scoring strategies. If a team can be distracted from the game -- by, say, a staged fight or a naked fan running across the field -- the ball will just roll into the goal.
5. Use two balls. Having two balls in play will increase the number of shots, and spread out the defense. The balls can be color coded, with one ball being worth two points and the other ball one point.
6. Add a goal tunnel. Have a corrugated metal tube that runs into the goal from beyond the goalie area. If someone can kick the ball into the tube, it is an automatic goal, since the goalie cannot defend it. New and entertaining strategies can be added with this feature. For example, players can be "tunneled" by being slammed against the sharp metal edges of the tube, thereby increasing the physical component, and with it, the entertainment value of the sport.--Rick Brookstaber

The Sox have faced four Cy Young Award winners this season — CC Sabathia three times, Zack Greinke twice, Roy Halladay once and Tim Lincecum once. The Sox are 6-1 in those games. The Cy Young winners are 0-4 with a 6.57 ERA.--Peter Abraham

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