Archive for the ‘Data matter’ category

Inequality Kills. Policy Drives Inequality. Elections Matter

March 16, 2014

Annie Lowrey in The New York Times today:

Fairfax is a place of the haves, and McDowell of the have-nots. Just outside of Washington, fat government contracts and a growing technology sector buoy the median household income in Fairfax County up to $107,000, one of the highest in the nation. McDowell, with the decline of coal, has little in the way of industry. Unemployment is high. Drug abuse is rampant. Median household income is about one-fifth that of Fairfax.

One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.

There have long been stark economic differences between Fairfax County and McDowell. But as their fortunes have diverged even further over the past generation, their life expectancies have diverged, too. In McDowell, women’s life expectancy has actually fallen by two years since 1985; it grew five years in Fairfax. [Links in the original]

Albrecht_Dürer_013

Lowrey is careful to note that the causal connection between poverty and longevity (or its absence) is hard to establish, and the data are both incomplete and fraught with co- and confounding factors.  But such caution does not in the end distract her from the basic point of her reporting:

It is hard to prove causality with the available information. County-level data is the most detailed available, but it is not perfect. People move, and that is a confounding factor. McDowell’s population has dropped by more than half since the late 1970s, whereas Fairfax’s has roughly doubled. Perhaps more educated and healthier people have been relocating from places like McDowell to places like Fairfax. In that case, life expectancy would not have changed; how Americans arrange themselves geographically would have.

“These things are not nearly as clear as they seem, or as clear as epidemiologists seem to think,” said Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton.

Further, there is nothing to suggest that, for a given individual, getting a raise in pay or moving between counties would mean outliving her peers.

“The statistical term is the ecological fallacy,” Mr. Kindig said. “We can’t apply aggregate data to an individual, and that’s underappreciated when you’re looking at these numbers.” But, “having said that, I still think that the averages and the variation across counties tells us a lot,” he added. “We don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.”

Despite the statistical murk, many epidemiologists, economists and other researchers say that rising income inequality may be playing into the rising disparity in health and longevity. “We can’t say that there is no effect, just because we don’t have clear methods to test the effect,” said Hui Zheng, a sociologist at Ohio State University…

Mr. Zheng has also posited that inequality, by socially disenfranchising certain groups and making them distrustful of public systems, may have a long-range effect on health.

To some extent, the broad expansion of health insurance to low-income communities, as called for under Obamacare, may help to mitigate this stark divide, experts say. And it is encouraging that both Republicans and Democrats have recently elevated the issues of poverty, economic mobility and inequality, But the contrast between McDowell and Fairfax shows just how deeply entrenched these trends are, with consequences reaching all the way from people’s pocketbooks to their graves.

I’ll mostly pass over Lowrey’s seeming willingness to take as hopeful recent Republican rhetoric on poverty absent any policy proposals that would do anything about it, whilst continuing to propose, inter alia, the destruction of Obamacare, the one program she cites as having the potential to help.  This kind of both-sides-ism seems to be an ineradicable MSM pathology.

What matters much more is the basic point to draw from the evidence within Lowrey’s piece:  poverty kills — or perhaps better, wealth saves. Increases in inequality correlate with an increasing gap between rich and poor on the most basic of measures, how long we all get to enjoy the pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.  Policies that drive such inequality, or do nothing to mitigate, are implicated in those lost years, in deaths before time.  Those policies are the current program of the Republican Party.

Literally:  Vote like your live depends on it.

Image: Albrecht Dürer, The Death of Crescentia Pirckheimer, 1504.

Tonight! ‘Net Radio: Me and Eileen Pollack on “Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science”

March 12, 2014

That’d be my regular monthly gig co-hosting Virtually Speaking Science, tonight, Wednesday March 12, 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.

Eileen Pollack is now a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching in the creative writing M.F.A. program there.  She’s a celebrated novelist and writer of short fiction, essays, and what is called (alas, in my view — and not her fault) “creative” nonfiction.  You can get hold of her works here.  All in all, hers is an enormously impressive record of a life in letters, of worlds made in words.

Eileen Pollack in 1978 was someone quite different (weren’t we all…) That spring, she graduated from Yale with highest honors in physics — only the second woman in the history of the university to complete that major.  What happened to take someone who was, on the accolades, one of Yale’s most accomplished undergraduate physicists, and turn her to a radically different path?

Pollack answered that question and raised another one in her New York Times Magazine article “Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science?” published last October.  In her case, no one told her she might have a shot at a career in math or physics.  So, as conditioned by her context’s views on female capacity and the maleness of science as any of the male professors who never thought to encourage her, she gave up the joy she found in equations and the ideas they expressed, and moved on.

So far hers is a sorrowful but not unfamiliar story.  The history of barriers to entry in science is a miserable one, but not unknown.  But Pollack’s curiosity — and more — flared in 2005, when then Harvard president Larry Summers mused about a possible biological deficit — at least when it comes to the extremes of mathematical capacity — might explain why men so outnumber women in the physical sciences.  Pollack is gentle with Summers himself, whom she’s known for decades , but the controversy created a need to know the answer to the underlying issue.  It’s a fact that there are many more men than women hold positions in the upper echelons of scientific research.  But why?

Joseph_Wright_of_Derby_-_Experiment_with_the_Air_Pump_-_WGA25892

Pollack’s article, and the book that will emerge from her enquiry, engage that question, and the explanations she’s coming to are at once depressingly reminiscent of her own story, and extend them, to account for the persistence of cultural and social bias even when (a) formal discrimination is prohibited by law and (b) members of a community — like physics departments — pride themselves on their ability to separate emotion and unconscious impulses from the exercise of reason.

In other words:  being smart is no protection against hidden biases, or even against accepting the evidence of bias when rigorously documented…and the revolution isn’t won yet, not by a long shot.

Pollack and I will be talking about all that, the whys the wherefores, and some thought as to what it will take to turn formal commitments to gender equity (and by extension, equity for the whole host of relevant modifiers) into actual practice, the simple fabric of society.

Join us!  Live or later here.  Or, if you are virtually real, at the Exploratorium’s Second Life joint – 6 p.m. this evening, March 12, 2014.

Image:  Joseph Wright of Derby, Experiment with the Air Pumpc. 1768

The Dead Horse Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

January 4, 2013

I know that the general human failure to assess risks appropriately  is one of those things we dweebs kvetch about all the time (and certain kinds of insurance purveyors profit from), but what the hell.  Might as well blather on about it again.

Here’s a graphic disinterred from Newsweek’s gravefrom way back in 2010.

I’m really posting this as an addendum to Doug J’s take on the lead/crime story.  He noted that Americans don’t actually realize how much crime rates have dropped over the last couple of decades; the graphic below widens the net of things Americans (and people in general) have trouble accepting in our inevitable encounters with risk. I’m sure pointing this old story out once again will do as much good to the how-great-it-is-to-be-armed as young Kevin Bacon achieved in this scene.  Still, one must but try, so here it is:

beafraid

Just as a hint to where some posting thoughts are going — I was struck in reading both Kevin Drum’s lead story and looking over the juxtapositions above by the number of times the appropriate response to the data comes from the world of public health.  That’s hardly the glamour end of medicine or social policy, but considering the returns we’ve already got from things like clean water and childhood vaccination, public health becomes one way to thin k about essential medicine, social policy — even justice, and economic returns.

The dicey bit, of course, is that if you accept for the moment Drum’s argument that lead in the environment drives all kinds of consequences over decades-long timescales, it becomes brutally obvious that the GOP approach is hopeless.  There’s no government-free market solution to the problem.  Which means that there is no solution to be had from our current Republican party.  Which, I suppose, is why it’s important to repeat what’s been said so often before — the GOP has a fundamentally failed conception of government and society, and hence it’s time as a political force must come to an end.  More to come on this theme.

And with that, it’s the cocktail hour.*

*Satan’s Whiskers? Really? Did folks drink that and live?¹

¹Which prompts the hideous and blasphemous pun: if Jesus were an organ donor would he have said “surely my liver redeemeth?”  OK.  I’m sorry.  I’ll shut up now.

The Dog that Ain’t Barking

August 14, 2012

GOS’s Laura Clawson is getting here before me, but there’s an overwhelmingly obvious truth unsaid within the now-notorious Politico piece on Republican campaign operatives’ despair over the Ryan pick.

The piece channels keening over the fact Ryan plan screws up what was presumed to be the Republican’s best tactical approach to winning the White House, by shifting focus from Obama’s record on the economy (however distorted or outright BS-ed the Romney characterization of that record was and would be) to one in which we will confront a choice between to sharply distinct policy and moral visions for the future.

That is:  the Politico folks take the usual horserace approach to the latest twist in the campaign.

But that approach buries the lead. Yes, the economy ain’t that great and Romney could build traction there, again, however disengenously.  But the real story here is something that we’ve been talking about more or less overtly for the last several days — and that’s the bit  Politico and its GOP sources really want to avoid talk about.

Consider:

“I think it’s a very bold choice. And an exciting and interesting pick. It’s going to elevate the campaign into a debate over big ideas. It means Romney-Ryan can run on principles and provide some real direction and vision for the Republican Party. And probably lose. Maybe big,” said former President George W. Bush senior adviser Mark McKinnon.

Another strategist emailed midway through Romney and Ryan’s first joint event Saturday: “The good news is that this ticket now has a vision. The bad news is that vision is basically just a chart of numbers used to justify policies that are extremely unpopular.”
These are technical doubts:  how is Romney going to win an election in which he has to defend very specific proposals that voters actually loathe.
But the real point isn’t that Ryan’s presence on the ticket  makes it harder for the GOP to figure out how to write ads or get out the vote come November.  It is that Ryan’s presence brings into sharp relief exactly what the party and its backers has spent decades trying to obscure.  Republicanism doesn’t work. It sucks.  Really, truly, deeply.
That is to say, as everyone reading this already knows — but too many in the country haven’t grasped, yet — the basic policy presumptions of the Republicans  either have been tried and been seen to fail (see, e.g. tax cuts and economic growth, George Bush II edition) or can be analyzed and recognized as disastrous. (See, e.g., the GOP and Ryan plan to return health care to the status quo ante of the pre-Obamacare universe, only worse, with no cost controls and the burden of paying for health care inflation shifted from a national insurance pool to an individually aging population, AKA You and Me).
It never gets better.  With every attempt to look at actual empirical evidence, the basic inadequacy of the low-tax/deregulated/War of All Against All approach to the social contract becomes more obvious.  The voters get this — which is why the Ryan plan is seen as literally intolerable when described accurately to just folks.
That’s the real story.  Not the horse race stuff.  No.  The GOP as “led” by Romney and actually headed by the forces behind him and Ryan is committed to a program that is literally destructive to America.  Not just most Americans — but to the overall health of the economy, the environment, and all the physical, human, and moral infrastructure that makes somewhere a good or bad place to live.
Put this another way.  As Politico likes to report, political tacticians worry about now to the election:
….

Republican consultant Terry Nelson is hoping that a big debate on the presidential level will make it tougher for Democrats to mischaracterize the debate down ballot, where many Republican candidates in the House and Senate have already taken votes in favor of the Ryan plan. The more Romney and Ryan have to defend Ryan’s plan in the presidential race, the more they’ll provide air cover for other candidates.

Well, perhaps.

But if that “defense” forces voters to think hard about what the Republican approach to America’s future actually means…well that’s Obama’s job, and ours, isn’t it?

Images: Edgar Degas, Race Horses in a Landscape, 1894

Pieter Breughel the Elder, Portrait of an Old Woman, c. 1564

Anatomy of a Zombie Lie…

July 23, 2012

Within less than a day of the Aurora shootings, a BJ reader sent me word of the absolutely predictable gun-nut push to claim that guns prevent more crime/save more lives than gun-use takes.

We’ve seen plenty of that in the days since, with the blame-the-victim, where-are-our-John-Waynes trope getting its usual airing, as it always does after such tragedies.

I wrote on this topic after the Gabrielle Giffords tragedy referencing some of the actual research that shows, over and over again that more guns = more gun tragedy.  Go check it out if you want to be further depressed by the American gun-fetish eternal return of the same pathology.

Here I just want to deal with one zombie lie — the one my BJ correspondent passed on to me:

Guns used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year — or about 6,850 times a day. This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives.

That’s from a “factsheet” produced by Gun Owners of America.  GOA helpfully footnotes the two sentences above, claiming independent scholarly support for the claim, which, they assert, is backed up by official federal government research:

Even the Clinton Justice Department (through the National Institute of Justice) found there were as many as 1.5 million defensive users of firearms every year. See National Institute of Justice, “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” Research in Brief (May 1997).

And your guns shall set you free, I guess.

But wait just a minute.

One of the things we do at the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing in which I have the honor to teach is to make sure that our students develop a nose for funny numbers.  Your olfactory neurons should be firing pretty hard right now.  2.5 million instances of gun defense? 1 for every 12 120 or so US citizens, infants at the breast, gaffers spooning their soup and all and sundry in between?Almost 7,000 a day, and nary a mention on the nightly news? No blog of “Real American Heroes” or some such?

But what the hell.  It’s documented, right?

Right – by a study from 1994, confirmed, allegedly, by a US government-sponsored analysis in 1997.  So let’s do something radical. Let’s read the referenced material.  Here’s the relevant passage from “Guns in America…[pdf]:”

Private citizens sometimes use their guns to scare off trespassers and fend off assaults. Such defensive gun uses (DGUs) are sometimes invoked as a measure of the public benefits of private gun ownership. On the basis of National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data, one would conclude that defensive uses are rare indeed, about 108,000 per year. But other surveys yield far higher estimates of the number of DGUs. Most notable has been a much publicized estimate of 2.5 million DGUs, based on data from a 1994 telephone survey conducted by Florida State University professors Gary Kleck and Mark Gertz. [the study the GOA "factsheet" references in its claim]  The 2.5 million figure has been picked up by the press and now appears regularly in newspaper articles, letters to the editor, editorials, and even Congressional Research Service briefs for public policymakers.

The NSPOF survey is quite similar to the Kleck and Gertz instrument and provides a basis for replicating their estimate. Each of the respondents in the NSPOF was asked the question, “Within the past 12 months, have you yourself used a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or someone else, or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere?” Answers in the affirmative were followed with “How many different times did you use a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or property in the past 12 months?” Negative answers to the first DGU question were followed by “Have you ever used a gun to defend yourself or someone else?” (emphasis in original). Each respondent who answered yes to either of these DGU questions was asked a sequence of 30 additional questions concerning the most recent defensive gun use in which the respondent was involved, including the respondent’s actions with the gun, the location and other circumstances of the incident, and the respondent’s relationship to the perpetrator.

Forty-five respondents reported a defensive gun use in 1994 against a person (exhibit 7). Given the sampling weights, these respondents constitute 1.6 percent of the sample and represent 3.1 million adults. Almost half of these respondents reported multiple DGUs during 1994, which provides the basis for estimating the 1994 DGU incidence at 23 million. This surprising figure is caused in part by a few respondents reporting large numbers of defensive gun uses during the year; for example, one woman reported 52! [That's once a week, for those of you keeping score at  home. Even if you're living in a truly bad neighborhood, that's impressively bad luck as far as being targetted by crime goes.--ed.]

A somewhat more conservative NSPOF estimate is shown in the column of exhibit 7 that reflects the application of the criteria used by Kleck and Gertz to identify “genuine” defensive gun uses. Respondents were excluded on the basis of the most recent DGU description for any of the following reasons: the respondent did not see a perpetrator; the respondent could not state a specific crime that was involved in the incident; or the respondent did not actually display the gun or mention it to the perpetrator.

Applying those restrictions leaves 19 NSPOF respondents (0.8 percent of the sample), representing 1.5 million defensive users. This estimate is directly comparable to the well-known estimate of Kleck and Gertz, shown in the last column of exhibit 7. While the NSPOF estimate is smaller, it is statistically plausible that the difference is due to sampling error. Inclusion of multiple DGUs reported by half of the 19 NSPOF respondents increases the estimate to 4.7 million DGUs.

Some troubling comparisons. If the DGU numbers are in the right ballpark, millions of attempted assaults, thefts, and break-ins were foiled by armed citizens during the 12- month period. According to these results, guns are used far more often to defend against crime than to perpetrate crime. (Firearms were used by perpetrators in 1.07 million incidents of violent crime in 1994, according to NCVS data.)

Thus, it is of considerable interest and importance to check the reasonableness of the NSPOF estimates before embracing them. Because respondents were asked to describe only their most recent defensive gun use, our comparisons are conservative, as they assume only one defensive gun use per defender. The results still suggest that DGU estimates are far too high.

For example, in only a small fraction of rape and robbery attempts do victims use guns in self-defense. It does not make sense, then, that the NSPOF estimate of the number of rapes in which a woman defended herself with a gun was more than the total number of rapes estimated from NCVS (exhibit 8). For other crimes listed in exhibit 8, the results are almost as absurd: the NSPOF estimate of DGU robberies is 36 percent of all NCVS-estimated robberies, while the NSPOF estimate of DGU assaults is 19 percent of all aggravated assaults. If those percentages were close to accurate, crime would be a risky business indeed!

NSPOF estimates also suggest that 130,000 criminals are wounded or killed by civilian gun defenders. That number also appears completely out of line with other, more reliable statistics on the number of gunshot cases.

The evidence of bias in the DGU estimates is even stronger when one recalls that the DGU estimates are calculated using only the most recently reported DGU incidents of NSPOF respondents; as noted, about half of the respondents who reported a DGU indicated two or more in the preceding year. Although there are no details on the circumstances of those additional DGUs, presumably they are similar to the most recent case and provide evidence for additional millions of violent crimes foiled and perpetrators shot.

…..

The key explanation for the difference between the 108,000 NCVS estimate for the annual number of DGUs and the several million from the surveys discussed earlier is that NCVS avoids the false-positive problem by limiting DGU questions to persons who first reported that they were crime victims. Most NCVS respondents never have a chance to answer the DGU question, falsely or otherwise.

[All bold emphases added by yours truly.]

Sorry for such a long block quote, but there is method to my tl;dr madness.  There is a figure out there that has been enshrined as “fact.” Guns prevent crimes — and in such great numbers as to outweigh any tragedy.  13 dead and 48 wounded?  Sad, but merely sacrifices to the greater good of an armed society…

Except, of course, it isn’t true.  The lie persists because the liars rely (soundly, it appears) on the certainty that almost no one will go back through the literature and see if anything they say is actually, you know, true.  The very piece of government research GOA cites as support explicitly and at length debunks the core claim.  But no matter. Who reads fifteen year old reports anyway?

You do, if you’ve stuck it this far.  Lots of other folks — including media makers — have not, at least as suggested by the persistence of this zombie lit.

And so we permit zombies to continue to suck our brains out, as such lies become public policy fact.  Such failure — the failure of folks within the gun community to speak honestly, and the disastrous failure of the media to report the story clearly and accurately — costs lives.  People die.  Kids die, old folks die, time and again real people, not mere tallies on a false record of those lost against those saved…ripped from their families, their loved ones, their own selves.  We can do better, but we choose not to.

Just to drive that last claim home  let me point you to one study from those cited in my Giffords post referenced above:

PHILADELPHIA – In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

I’m not a gun-ownership absolutist.  I don’t think we could (politically) or should remove guns from every hand and every home.  But, as Bernard wrote this morning, there’s a lot of room between such a ban and where we are now — and I’d move a long way through that space of possibility.

Which we can’t, as long as the media permit the gun nuts to lie with impunity. I’ve written before about imposing a strict insurance scheme on gun ownership, and I still think that’s a step that could be made possible over time.  But not that nor any other useful idea while we permit the argument to be hijacked by stuff its partisans know to be so, but isn’t.

Images:  Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Francisco de Goya, Friar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off, 1806

Faith vs. Reason: Stand Your Ground/Violent Crime Edition

March 23, 2012

Last night the PBS News Hour program held a roundtable on the Trayvon Martin murder.  Ta-Nehisi Coates was on, as were Reihan Salem and Donna Britt.  So was Dennis Baxley, the Florida state representative who co-authored the Stand Your Ground law under whose cloak George Zimmerman stalked and gunned down the 17 year old Martin.

Baxley said — and appeared to mean — the right things about Martin’s death, that it was a tragedy, and that nothing in the law he helped enact should be interpreted to authorize someone to pursue, confront and shoot another.  But Baxley rejected the notion that the law itself might have contributed to the catastrophe, arguing instead that it is a force for good, a way, in his words, a law intended “to empower law abiding citizens to stop violent things from happening.”

What’s more, said Baxley, the law has done just that:

Since ’05 to 2012 we have seen a reduction in violent crime in Florida.  And what I’ve learned from it is that if you empower to stop bad things from happening they will and they do and they have.

Except, of course, those bad things that happen because people are able to claim that a “feeling” of danger constitutes authorization to use deadly force more or less at will.

But snark aside, what of the claim about crime rates in Florida.

Here, I’ll take a cue from Rachel Maddow, and say that Dennis Baxler is lying.

Check out Florida’s crime statistics.  Two things stand out.

The first is that the number of violent crimes has not dropped from 2005 through 2010 (where the data series ends); rather it has jostled about in the noise.  From 2005-2008, violent crime totals exceeded the 2004 tally of just over 124,000; in 2009 and 2010 the totals dropped below that figure. If there’s a clear case for correlation with the Stand Your Ground law, it must exist at some much finer grained level that the invoked violent crime catch-all

So what about murder?  That is, after all, the crime of crimes, and the one for which I think most of us would be most comfortable in giving deference to claims of self defense.  Those numbers make Baxley’s story worse:  the murder total in Florida dropped from 946 to 881 from 2004-2005, and have exceeded the 2004 total for each year reported since, peaking at 1,202 in 2007 — or about a 26% hike from the 2004 number.

The shorter: violent crime numbers do not support a claim that the SYG law has consistently reduced violent crime incidence since 2005.

The other key fact to leaps out from this chart:

The slope of the rate/100,000 (blue) line has been pretty consistent for twenty years.  It gets a little steeper from 2008-2010, to be sure, though not as much as it did from 1997 to 1999 or 2000.  But this picture is consistent with the story in the rest of the country: violent crime is a much less severe problem now than it was decades ago. Any explanation for this ongoing process cannot have anything to do with a law enacted in 2005.  That longer history alone makes a mockery any sudden 9mm ex machina explanation for Florida’s recent and welcome continued reduction in rates of violent crime.  And, of course, any monocausal explanation  is almost certain to be wrong.

Hell, I’ll go further and say that a priori, such accounts are always wrong.

Consider instead another story.  Sometime in a leisure-filled future, (hah!–ed) I do plan to blog this really smart Adam Gopnik piece in the New Yorker examining research into  what drove crime rates down in New York City over the last several decades.  But for now in this context, take this home:

Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” [Wrote Franklin E. Zimring]…Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

All of which is to say that when Baxley asserts that Florida is experiencing a respite from violent crime because it now allows citizens to act as amateur law enforcers, empowered to use deadly force as their judgment drives them, he’s not telling the truth.  He’s lying, saying something that is false as a mundane fact and wrong as a causal inference.

Which is why this from Baxley is a type specimen of moral cowardice:

This kind of very unfortunate situation I think is a misapplication of this statute.

If you enact a law that carries with it a predictable budget of unintended, undesired consequences that result from the application of that law in daily life, then you’re not talking about “unfortunate” events, nor “misapplications.”  You’re talking about a murder that was a probabilistically predictable result of enacting a crap law.

I’m sorry Mr. Baxley.

I’m sure you mean well.

I have no doubt that you did not wish the particular child, Trayvon Martin any harm — how could you? You never knew him.

But what you feel in your heart, that regret that someone didn’t behave under your law as you think they should?  Not an excuse. No absolution.  Trayvon Martin is dead because someone empowered in his own mind by the terms of your law stalked down a street, confronted him, and shot that 17 year old kid down.

You own your part of this.

Hot Stuff

June 16, 2011

Over in Australia, where the plague of special interest enmeshed AGW “truthers” has been just as bad, if not worse than the miserable corps we have here,* an impressive cross section of the Oz scientific community is actually making some noise.

At a new website (still in beta) called The Conversation, set up to be a unfiltered source of news and analysis from the Australian academic community, a group of Australian climate scientists are trying to do to climate “skeptics” (aka buffoons and/or grifters) what Bruins forward Brad Marchand did to  Daniel Sedin’s chin in Game Six.  In an open letter announcing the start of two weeks worth of demonstration that climate change is real, due to human activity, and amenable to certain kinds of action within our power if not our grasp.  They write:

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

 

Bam! Short, simple, clear and true.

They name and shame:

…Understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.

Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts.

And they make a promise:

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

And they’ve begun.  You can check out the series here.

Now, while I was born at night, it wasn’t last night, so I know that even sharply argued rational discourse won’t make a difference to the professional skeptics.  They’re in it for the money, and for the warm and fuzzies that come with comforting the comfortable.

The real targets of this kind of effort are the media, and through them, the mushy middle currently being persuaded by false information disseminated within a fake debate.

Anne Laurie wrote yesterday on the problem with that ambition:  that too many, in the US at least, have now crossed the line into territory where belief in the great secular-scientific conspiracy on AGW has entered the realm of religious commitment, of identity.  That’s territory in which argument has little or no pull; once it becomes a condition of one’s world view to affirm something false…counterarguments aren’t even heard.

She (and Tom Junod, who wrote the inciting essay at Esquire) may well be right.  But the triumph of (bad) faith over works in this field is recent, and not yet universal.

The long road back begins with both hard fact and sound reasoning, relayed over and over again — and the repetition, just as loud, just as often, of the counter meme, that those lying about global warming are doing so to line their own and their patrons pockets.

“Follow the money” ain’t dignified (or original).  But everyone, including true believers, understand what it means.

So, good on ya, my Aussie kin.  Let’s have more of this, and over here.

*For more on that point, let me puff a book I’ve touted before, Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.  They document how telling the “science can’t be sure/it’s just a theory” meme is a profitable business of long standing — if you have the conscience of a goat with IBS

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, The Angel, Standing in the Sun, 1846.


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