November 28, 2009

WSJ’s ‘The Uncertainty Economy’ Also Inadvertently Flags the POR Economy’s Beginning

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 1:16 pm

They name the malaise, but not the timing, which I’ll take care of

What last month had appeared to be third-quarter growth of 3.5% in gross domestic product turns out to have been a more modest 2.8%. Consumer spending was pared back to 2.9% from 3.4%. The cash-for-clunkers subsidy produced fewer new-vehicle purchases than first estimated. In short, we aren’t getting much bang for our $787 billion stimulus bucks. But you already knew that.

…. The panicked Democrats’ biggest problem is that Congress and the President have erected the biggest overhang of economic policy uncertainty that anyone can remember.

One big difference between Washington and private markets is that politicians think everything they do is free-standing. Markets, however, combine all the potential costs of Washington’s policies and then decide whether to invest, or not.

Guess what?

They’re not, and nobody can make them do it when they don’t want to (yet).

“The Uncertainty Economy” is just another name for the POR (Pelosi-Obama-Reid) Economy, the one we’ve been living in since mid-2008. That’s when the needle in the uncertainty meter started into the red. It went to “iceberg ahead” during the September-October 2008 bailout fiasco. It’s been reading “man the lifeboats” since the 2008 presidential election returns came in.

During the era of uncertainty the POR Economy ushered in, quarterly annualized GDP changes have been -2.7%, -5.4%, -6.4%, -0.7%, and +2.8% (pending one more revision).

I do agree with Democrats who are all of a sudden discovering that Tim Geithner is an awful Treasury Secretary. One reason they don’t want him around is that more of the truth about his role in creating the current mess is emerging (see AIG).

At NYT’s Dot Earth: Young Scientist ‘Disheartened’ by Climategate; Core Problems Ignored

ClimategateNew York Times environment reporter Andrew C. Revkin had a post yesterday that was primarily about an open letter from Judith Curry. Revkin describes her as “a seasoned climate scientist at Georgia Tech …. (who) has no skepticism about a growing human influence on climate.”

Revkin writes that “Dr. Curry has written a fresh essay that’s essentially a message to young scientists potentially disheartened in various ways by recent events.”

Here are some of the key paragraphs from Curry’s letter that touch on that matter:

Based upon feedback that I’ve received from graduate students at Georgia Tech, I suspect that you are confused, troubled, or worried by what you have been reading about ClimateGate.

…. What has been noticeably absent so far in the ClimateGate discussion is a public reaffirmation by climate researchers of our basic research values: the rigors of the scientific method (including reproducibility), research integrity and ethics, open minds, and critical thinking. Under no circumstances should we ever sacrifice any of these values; the CRU emails, however, appear to violate them.

…. (one student wrote to me that) “The content of some of the emails literally made me stop and wonder if I should continue with my PhD applications for fall 2010, in this science. I was so troubled by how our fellow scientists within the climate community have been dealing with opposing voices (on both sides).”

…. So with this reaffirmation of core climate research values, I encourage you to discuss the ideas and issues raised here with your fellow students and professors. Your professors may disagree with me; there are likely to be many perspectives on this.

…. A better understanding of the enormous policy implications of our field should imbue in all of us a greater responsibility for upholding the highest standards of research ethics. Hone your communications skills; we all need to communicate more effectively. Publish your data as supplementary material or post on a public website. And keep your mind open and sharpen your critical thinking skills. My very best wishes to you in your studies, research, and professional development. I look forward to engaging with you in a dialogue on this topic.

Curry’s correspondence is nice, but peripheral to the core problems Climategate exposes.

What’s notably lacking in Revkin’s report, Curry’s letter, and many other Climategate-related establishment media reports is any willingness to entertain the notion that the scandal completely undermines the scientific basis for the argument that AGW (anthropogenic global warming) is occurring.

It seems that no one will dare say that the pathetic state of the data described in the leaked e-mails and the demonstrated willingness of those who control it to massage it hollows out the entire core of the AGW argument, because as I understand it there is no other comparable data set.

Short of creating a fresh batch of comprehensive, transparent, auditable, and totally traceable data supporting the existence of AGW, at this point it is currently barely more than a hypothesis — marginally no better or worse than one which might theorize that the earth is cooling and humans are causing that.

Separately, my hypothesis is that troubled science students, rather than focusing on how to deal with outsiders, are primarily shaken up by the conduct of scientific insiders, and the relatively nonchalant reaction to it. That would lead students entering scientific pursuits to logically fear that:

  • The quality of their work, and ultimately their career progress, will be judged not on rigor or merit, but on how well that work fits pre-existing templates.
  • If their work is at first supported but then called into doubt, they will be pressured to tamper with or conceal underlying research data to refute and rebuff doubters instead of engaging their arguments.
  • They may end up in constant, daily, stressful battle with colleagues whose primary interest is in advancing political or ideological agenda.

Given that those caught red-handed cooking the books and playing hide-and-seek with the data have yet to see any meaningful sanctions or discipline for what they have done, students would logically fear that if they fight for scientific values when they are compromised by political factors, they will be fighting alone and ostracized by their peers.

Though their number is unfortunately shrinking, there are still other fields of life endeavor that don’t have this kind of potential ugly baggage.

Thus, I believe that Ms. Curry’s letter barely scratches the surface in attempting to articulate students’ sadly valid concerns.

Cross-posted at Graphic created at NewsBusters.

Rom Houben: Culture of Death Is Not Impressed

Filed under: General,Health Care,Life-Based News,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:24 am


It’s nice that the story of Rom Houben has recently made the news. I carried it as one of my own “Positivity” posts earlier this week.

A Google News Search on “Rom Houben Laureys” (not typed in quotes; Laureys is the last name of Houben’s principal doctor) at about 11:30 p.m. ET came back with 1,528 results relating to the word of his amazing recovery and ability to communicate after 23 years of being “comatose.” That same search also comes back with 197 results questioning the legitimacy of his recovery. That number appears likely to grow, as the core article leading those results was only 8 hours old when this post was prepared.

From Brussels, the Associated Press’s Raf Cassert gave voice to the doubters, while avoiding one of the real reasons why they’re engaged in their doubting:

Coma recovery case attracts doubters

Rom Houben’s mother remembers her son’s amazement when he finally started communicating again after spending 23 years locked in a paralyzed body that was misdiagnosed as vegetative.

“Early on, he was surprised that the words came out of his finger,” Fina Nicolaes said. “Now, he is busy writing a book.”

However, his communication, with the help of a speech therapist holding his hand punching a touch screen, is stirring controversy only days after the story of his comeback as a fully conscious man entombed in an immobile body captured the world’s imagination.

It has scholars questioning the technique of facilitated communication, bloggers denouncing it as a cruel farce, and millions asking as they watch the video of Houben’s hand being held as it quickly types into the screen — who is really doing the punching here?

Dr. Steven Laureys understands the questions and said he might ask the same if he did not know the patient. And he said there is only one way to address the doubters — science.

“For me, there are two questions: Is he conscious? Can he communicate? That is ‘yes’ twice,” he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

…. when news of Houben’s recovery and the video hit the world this week, some people immediately began raising doubts. Bioethics professor Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania was among the first — calling the practice of facilitated communication “Ouija board stuff.”

The British Psychological Society, through clinical neurologist Dr. Graham Powell echoed that view, arguing there is nothing in scientific literature to support using facilitated communication as it’s been used with Houben.

Caffert left out at least two important things:

  • That Laureys believes that roughly 4 in 10 patients believed to be in a persistent vegetative state really aren’t. This brings echoes of 2005′s Terri Schiavo situation, where doctors and the courts persisted in giving Terri’s husband Michael the permission to starve and dehydrate her to death based on his word alone that it’s what Terri would have wanted. Laureys’s position makes him a target.
  • That Penn professor Caplan is not an objective observer. In 2005, Caplan told CNN that he, in CNN’s words, “supports the Texas law giving the hospital the right to make life or death decisions eveen if the family disagrees. ‘There are occasions when family members just don’t get it right,’ he said. ‘No parent should have the right to cause suffering to a kid in a futile situation.’”

Cassert, as seen above, added another person who agreed with Caplan. He didn’t find any scientist who agreed with Laureys or who would comment positively on Houben’s progress. It’s hard to believe that finding one would have required a lot of effort.

In other words, Cassert’s coverage is not only not balanced, it is badly out of balance.

It’s quite interesting that the press is so willing to give the doubters their due in this instance, while those who doubt something that has, with the emergence of Climategate, apparently been subjected to far more manipulation than anything Laureys might have done to steer his patient in any given direction, get the back of the hand treatment from the media.

Cross-posted at