Archive for January, 2007

Smart People are Overpaid and It’s the Government's Fault

Monday, January 29th, 2007

If you are a true nerd, the first thing you are going to ask is “overpaid by what standard”?

So let me rephrase the title of the blog post in nerd speak; People with higher then average I.Q scores are subsidized by government actions and as a result people with above average I.Q are receiving a higher share of total GDP than is optimal. (Optimal being the situation that would result in greatest amount of real growth in this country’s GDP.)

This is a fairly simple thing to prove, provided you are willing to grant me a few premises. (more…)

The Futility of Debate….

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Jane Galt writes…..

My favourite, though, are the posts where everyone speculates on the motives of the other side. You see, pro-lifers don’t care about babies at all, because that would make their points something you might have to listen to and we can’t have that, can we? So what they obviously really care about is screwing up women’s lives so that they’ll have to spend the rest of them barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen making lemonade for Pa and his friends when they come in from a hard day of plowing and oppressing colored people. And pro-choicers don’t actually care about women; all they’re really interested is enforcing a radical feminist agenda on the rest of us so girls won’t be able to wear dresses and lipstick any more and boys will have to have their genitalia surgically removed at puberty and replaced with a copy of The Feminine Mystique. Also, while we can’t be totally sure, it’s reasonable to assume that many of them enjoy baby-killing, and would sacrifice live infants if not restrained by the hard work of good, Christian folk.

I understand what Ms. Galt is getting at here all too well. But I think she is ignoring an ugly truth. Many pro-lifers would walk past a host of starving children to get to an anti-abortion rally. And many pro-choice people show nothing but disdain for those women who do not hold to the proper beliefs. The more you know about people, the uglier they seem.

The ugliness of humans makes it easier to demonize the other side of any debate.

But even if we can overcome the disgust that a close study of the human race evokes, it still can be hard to look at the other side of a debate with respect. Nothing makes people madder than coming across other humans who have truly different a priori beliefs than their own. We all believe that only our a priori beliefs are legitimate. Only our a priori beliefs are supported by the one true revelation. Only our a priori beliefs are supported by reason.

An a priori belief that differs from our own seems to us to be a product of someone who is blind and irrational. We hold that they must be insane for if they were normal, they would see things as we do. Thus, we will hold nothing but scorn for those who hold beliefs that differ from ours even if we are forced to admit that they are not hypocrites.

Take this woman for example. Because of her beliefs, she put her own life on the line. Because of her beliefs she endured much reproach from people who knew her. And though she does not talk about it much, her decision forced her to bear a large amount of physical pain.

Would someone who is pro-choice respect her because she is not a hypocrite? Would they respect her because she was willing to put her own life on the line because of her pro-life beliefs? Not likely.

Instead, they would tell her all the things that she has already heard. They will tell her what a fool she is. How irrational she is. How her religious beliefs should be discarded in the name of reason.

The things that divide people can run deep. They can be so deep that the divides cannot be bridged by mere humans. These divisions have real consequences that cannot be wished away and cannot be resolved by reason.

I think on some level Ms. Galt understands this. But she gives the impression that coming to a better understanding of each other would help take the heat out of the disagreement.

I wish that this were true. But I think that if a clear understanding of the things that separated us provided any kind of relief, more of us would seek that understanding out. In reality, the only possible responses to those gulfs that divided us are anger or grief. That is why we generally prefer to be blind.

Ape Man's guide to the Internet: In the Pipeline…

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

The best part and main problem with Derek Lowe’s blog “In the Pipeline” are one and the same. After all, the blog is all about chemistry and the life of a chemist. For some people, reading about that subject is like watching paint dry. But if you have just a smidgen of intellectual curiosity, In the Pipeline is a real jewel.

After all, you are getting the inside scoop from a chemist in pharmaceutical industry. Not that he will give any details of the projects that he is currently working on, of course. Still, his opinions on the various issues surrounding the pharmaceutical industry are a fascinating window on what the people actually doing the research think. Better yet are the posts on how they actually do the research and the problems they encounter in the industry.

If that is not enough to keep you entertained, Lowe can be counted on to comment on most major news stories that have a chemistry component. For example, check out this piece on the Floyd Landis’s doping scandal. Or this post on polonium poisoning. And of course he has countless posts on any major news story involving a pharmaceutical company.

The best part of all of this is that Derek Lowe can actually write and he acts like an adult when it comes to interacting with his commenters. This is an unfortunately rare combination in the blog world. In my limited experience, most of Lowe’s contemporaries in the scientific blogging community lack one or both traits.

The closest thing I can come to a complaint about Lowe’s blog is that he is not very original in his thinking. If you have a general idea of what highly educated people in the scientific fields who are conservatives think, you already know the broad outlines of what his views on all of the issues are. I understand that we are all products of our environment to one degree or another. But it would be nice if Lowe would come up with a viewpoint that really surprised me for once.

For blogs on politics or something like that, this lack of originality would be a big problem. But I read In the Pipeline to get the views of someone who knows a lot about chemistry and the pharmaceutical industry, so I can’t really complain if that is all I get. Especially since Lowe does such good job of purveying the information in ways that an ignoramus like me can understand.

Open Question….

Friday, January 26th, 2007

How can Spitzer freeze payments to hospitals and increase the coverage provided to the uninsured with out compromising their already poor quality of care?

The answer we are given is that he is going to reform how the money is spent which will produce all kinds of savings. As this article reports….

Spitzer, who was elected by a landslide in November, said the state spends more money on Medicaid per capita than any state in the nation, yet 2.6 million New Yorkers, including 400,000 children, are uninsured.

So Spitzer’s assumption seems to be that since New York spends more per capita then any other state there must be lots of ways to save money. But I wonder if he takes into account the following facts….

(a) It cost more to provide any kind of service in New York City and that is where most of the money is spent.

(b) New York has more generous benefits then most (all?) of the surrounding states.

(c) Some people with problems move to New York State because they can get better benefits then they can in their home states.

Maybe Spitzer can come up with enough savings in spite of all those things. But I would like it if someone explained to me how he was going to do it.

Please Tell Me This Is Just a Prank….

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

I don’t have the language skills to check up on this, but this post claims that Belgium is going to ban the wearing of the numbers 18 and 88.

I can’t imagine how anyone with enough brains to keep their heart beating dares to purpose such a thing.

Justifying the unjustifiable….

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

I kept myself amused today my pondering the following thought experiment….

For the sake of argument let us say that the sole source of morality is the good of the most possible people. Let us say that the definition of people includes those who are not yet born for the same reasons that we worry about global warming and other such things. (You can discount those unborn people to a degree if you want, but you can not make their value be 0.)


We are war criminals…

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

This article has a taste that I do not like. There are few things that annoy me more then someone who is promulgating a “rational” Christianity.

Having said that, I believe that it is worth reading this article for it reminds us of what war criminals are really like.

I worry to much….

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

I suppose I worry too much. But it is so hard to not worry when I see things like this….

Student From Hell, Part Two

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Those who remember my post “Student From Hell Part One” already know the basic set up. I was stuck in an economics class where all the teacher wanted us to do was regurgitate the textbook. As a consequence, I was bored out of my mind. My only source of amusement was trying to contradict the textbook as much as possible.

In the case of this particular assignment, I was really angry that such a loaded question had been given for what was supposed to be a three paragraph answer. Or maybe it was four, I don’t remember for sure. I never wrote down any instructions except the question that we were supposed to answer.

In any case, it was obvious that we were just supposed to summarize what the textbook said about each of the competing economic theories in one paragraph. That is why you will find one paragraph tacked on at the end. I was running out of time and I had to rush to meet the bare minimum.

I should warn people that this has to be the most horrible written assignment that I ever turned into to a professor (although, since I only ever had 3 professors, that is not saying much). That could explain why this was the only (if my memory serves me correctly) assignment where I received a B.

Ironically, I had the most fun of my whole economics course while writing this piece of garbage, but not because I like to write garbage. I had so much fun doing the reading for this piece that I almost did not have time to spew anything out.

My main regret is that I brought shame on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Say by associating him with an Ape Man’s mental barf. Really, if you were smart, you would go read some of Say’s work instead of this.

Anyway, here are the questions….. (more…)

A deterministic problem…

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article on how pure thought can change the physical structure of the brain. Apparently, just sitting around and thinking about things can change the shape of your brain. How cool is that?

In one sense this should be no surprise. We already know that doing things like learning how to juggle or play an instrument can change the structure of the brain. It is obviously the thought that is required to do those things that causes the change. So why shouldn’t pure thought change the brain as well?

Nonetheless, I still think that this raises some interesting philosophical issues from a deterministic perspective. I mean, the structure of your brain affects what you can think, right? The structure of their brain is the reason that people with autism have so much trouble, right? I have also been told that some people are better than others at math while others are better at verbal communication because of how their brain is structured.

So to what extent does the structure of brain dictate thought and to what extent does thought dictate the structure of the brain?

I wonder about this, because I daydream a lot. In fact, I am famous for being lost in space, as it were. Have I changed the structure of my brain with all my daydreaming, or did the structure of my brain dictate that I daydream a lot?