URLs du Jour

2020-12-13

[Amazon Link]

  • Note: our Amazon Product du Jour is supposed to be ironic humor, I think. The manufacturer is reported to be "Funny Scientist humor shirt", anyway.

    But writing at the James G. Martin Center, Sumantra Maitra seems serious: Who Is Responsible for the Loss of Faith in Science?. But it's a common way of speaking, as his article notes:

    In an essay in the liberal UK broadsheet The Guardian, multiple authors chart out the most important task for the incoming Biden administration: to “restore the faith in science.

    “Joe Biden’s most important promise to the American people was a policy platform taken for granted prior the Trump presidency: believe science,” the article suggests, adding that “Restoring trust in science will not be simple after four years of lies, half-truths, misdirections and conspiracy theories.”

    Days later, the academic journal Nature was under pressure from a concerted effort because it dared to publish a paper showing that “increasing the proportion of female mentors is associated not only with a reduction in post-mentorship impact of female protégés, but also a reduction in the gain of female mentors.”

    Why are those two instances important? Because lately, oblivious to the internal contradictions, a section of the elite is determined to restore faith and trust in a somewhat religious idea of “science” as long as the conclusions adhere to a Whiggish liberal worldview.

    Observations:

    • I get wary whenever people use "faith in science" as if it were something to be desired. It's not really. Trust me, I went through Lutheran Confirmation.
    • I have no idea what a "Whiggish liberal worldview" is.
    • People who do have a wide-eyed "faith in science" should (at least) read the recent book Science Fictions by Stuart Ritchie. (My take here.)

    That said, Sumantra has some good observations too.


  • Related: At AIER, Jeffrey A. Tucker reminds us: The “Expert Consensus” Also Favored Alcohol Prohibition.

    Most people today regard America’s experiment with alcohol prohibition as a national embarrassment, rightly repealed in 1933. So it will be with the closures and lockdowns of 2020, someday. 

    In 1920, however, to be for the repeal of the prohibition that was passed took courage. You were arguing against prevailing opinion backed by celebratory scientists and exalted social thinkers. What you were saying flew in the face of “expert consensus.”

    There is an obvious analogy to Lockdowns 2020.

    I'm not minimizing Covid; it's bad, dude. Worse is the panicked response from the "do something" crowd.


  • If you want to get panicked about something, I have a better candidate. From John Cochrane: Debt denial (copied from National Review where I think it's paywalled).

    Does debt matter? As the Biden administration and its economic cheerleaders prepare ambitious spending plans, a radical new idea is spreading: Maybe debt doesn’t matter. Maybe the U.S. can keep borrowing even after the COVID-19 recession is over, to fund “investments” in renewable energy, electric cars, trains and subways, unionized public schools, housing, health care, child care, “community development” schemes, universal incomes, bailouts of student debt, state and local governments, pensions, and many, many more checks to voters.

    The argument is straightforward. Bond investors are willing to lend money to the U.S. at extremely low interest rates. Suppose Washington borrows and spends, say, $10 trillion, raising the debt-to-GDP ratio from the current 100 percent to 150 percent. Suppose Washington just leaves the debt there, borrowing new money to pay interest on the old money. At 1 percent interest rates, the debt then grows by 1 percent per year. But if GDP grows at 2 percent, then the ratio of debt to GDP slowly falls 1 percent per year, and in a few decades it’s back to where it was before the debt binge started.

    What could go wrong? This scenario requires that interest rates stay low, for decades to come, and remain low even as the U.S. ramps up borrowing. The scenario requires that growth continues to outpace interest rates. Most of all, this scenario requires that big deficits stop. For at best, this is an argument for a one-time borrowing binge or small perpetual deficits, on the order of 1 percent of GDP, or only $200 billion today.

    John's advice: "Borrow long." That's his advice to Janet Yellen. I can only guess his advice to Joe American. Buy gold?


  • A P. J. O'Rourke quote that's always stuck in my head: Earnestness is stupidity sent to college. I feel that Paul Graham deserves equal time, though; here he is on Earnestness.

    Jessica and I have certain words that have special significance when we're talking about startups. The highest compliment we can pay to founders is to describe them as "earnest." This is not by itself a guarantee of success. You could be earnest but incapable. But when founders are both formidable (another of our words) and earnest, they're as close to unstoppable as you get.

    Earnestness sounds like a boring, even Victorian virtue. It seems a bit of an anachronism that people in Silicon Valley would care about it. Why does this matter so much?

    When you call someone earnest, you're making a statement about their motives. It means both that they're doing something for the right reasons, and that they're trying as hard as they can. If we imagine motives as vectors, it means both the direction and the magnitude are right. Though these are of course related: when people are doing something for the right reasons, they try harder.

    A decent argument. I'll grant that Peej may have run up against some very earnest people who have rubbed him the wrong way.


  • We've looked a few times recently at the Constitution-rewriting prjoect. At National Review, Robert VerBruggen offers his take: The Constitution Is Basically Fine the Way It Is.

    Turns out the whole “three branches of government with strong protections for certain truly non-negotiable rights” concept is tough to beat.

    And once you start tinkering with the smaller stuff that’s served us well for centuries, you quickly get into trouble. Despite keeping the basics of the current Constitution intact, these proposals manage to change a lot on a line-by-line basis — and these ideas largely come off as interesting fodder for academic conversations rather than things we’d actually want to try, even setting aside the practical difficulty of passing an amendment. Which, in turn, further drives home the conclusion that what we already have is pretty freakin’ great.

    It's allowed a lot of mischief over the last couple centuries, though.