Now We are Seven Billion! La, La, La

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Despite the evident threat to the well being of our descendants some idiots keep asserting that the "Population bomb theory is a myth".

What complete nonsense! For one thing China's "economic miracle" comes after 30 years of having a one child policy, for another, despite improvements in some areas we still can't provide decent standards for a substantial fraction of the world's population, and for a third, to maintain the standards of those who do now live in luxury is already having environmental consequences (eg ocean acidification and global warming) that appear to be beyond our control. It is thus grossly irresponsible to keep betting on future technology to provide an acceptable standard of living for a population that keeps growing faster than we can bribe it into satiated infertility. Shame on those who continue putting all of our children at risk!

When 99% is really 0.01%

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

The Tyee ( Wall Street Occupiers, Don't Forget Ballot Box) says it rather too gently. The protesters and their direct supporters are more like a 0.01%  than 99%, and the other 99% of the real 99% were too stupid to do anything in the various elections where all of them have had plenty of chances to do so in the years since 2008 (let alone in all of the many decades before that).

One value of the protests though is that they may help move one edge of the frame in which those without minds of their own always try to center themselves.  When everyone starts repeating the mantras of "counterproductively asymmetric risk-rewards systems", and it becomes commonly believed that everyone understands them, then perhaps the electorate will venture to try out policies and tax systems which encourage a fairer distribution of wealth. I hope it happens soon, but I won't be holding my breath.

Collapse of Trade as a Phase Transition

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Prompted by our visiting friend Geoff (the 'lucky Geologist' and author of 'Green Figs' and other essays), I have recently finished reading 'The Fall of Rome - and the End of Civilization' by Bryan Ward-Perkins (OUP2005), wherein the author responds to a recent trend amongst historians to view the fall of Rome as a largely peaceful transition to Germanic rule within a period of positive cultural evolution. ...more »

LRB · Joseph Stiglitz · The Non-Existent Hand

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

LRB · Joseph Stiglitz · The Non-Existent Hand.

One comment in particular rang a bell for me.

Often the use of a mathematical model is considered  as giving predictions greater credibility when all it really does is ensure that they are consistent with the assumptions of the model.

In areas of technology based on well established assumptions this may actually justify some faith in the predictions, but in scientific practice the role of the mathematics is more often not to establish the prediction but rather to pin down the blame for its failure, and so to discredit the faulty assumptions of an inadequate theory.

Perhaps more emphasis on this aspect in our instruction would help to diminish the mystified acceptance of arguments to the effect that "mathematics predicts that..."

Economics: What went wrong with economics | The Economist

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Economics: What went wrong with economics | The Economist

Yes, There *IS* an Elephant in the Room

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

AlterNet Article by Chris Hedges

Rebuttal by Betsy Hartmann
...more »

Mythical Myths No 7

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

In "The Myth of the Tragedy of the Commons", Ian Angus claims that the phenomenon commonly called a "tragedy of the commons" is a myth. But he is wrong. Anyone who is aware of the fate of the Atlantic cod fishery must know the tragedy of an unregulated commons, so the phenomenon is surely real. It is real, and Angus has been blinded by his anger at those who have (ab)used the phenomenon into denying the phenomenon itself rather than the arguments by which it has been (falsely) claimed to justify privatization of public assets. ...more »

Hedonic Man

Monday, June 30th, 2008

Hedonic Man is the title of a review by Alan Wolfe of two books on the "new economics". Like Wolfe (and probably countless others) I am sure that the science of economics is sorely lacking, but also like him I am more than skeptical of the ideas of these revolutionaries (which I must admit I have not read directly but have come across in various contexts). However my objections are often different than Wolfe's and in fact I think his review misses the point in a number of key respects.

To start with the second of the authors being reviewed, it was a discussion elsewhere (in Scientific American if I recall correctly) of some of the experiments described by Dan Ariely which irritated me so much that I have been meaning for some time to look it up again and write a response. Wolfe's review now gives me that opportunity.

But in the unlikely event that I actually have a reader for any of this, I am afraid you will have to wait until tomorrow (since my attention span has just expired).

CO2 Reduction Scenarios (UK example)

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

Heavyweight physics prof weighs into climate/energy scrap [printer-friendly] | The Register

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

I was led to this Sunday Times profile of Taleb via Arts&Letters Daily.

Taleb's view that market collapses are more sudden and extreme (though less frequent) than rises seems believable to me but is presumably easily checked from the record, (and could presumably be built into the modelling of risk if true).

On a completely different tack I was taken with his statement that "Scientists don’t know what they are talking about when they talk about religion. Religion has nothing to do with belief, and I don’t believe it has any negative impact on people’s lives outside of intolerance." Leaving aside the rather large scope of "intolerance" as a source of negative impact, I tend to agree that for most people the adoption of even a creed-based religion has little to do with actual belief and that this is why arguments about the validity of religion often fall flat without appearing to be processed.