Monday, February 29, 2016

An Experiment

I spent the past weekend at the conference of the International Students for Liberty, a libertarian group I sometimes speak for. My talk was on feud as a form of law enforcement. 

I came across a critical summary of my talk on the blog of someone who described himself as one of a handful of leftists who infiltrated the conference. The blog does not seem to provide any commenting mechanism so I emailed the author, suggesting that he let his readers hear what I actually said by adding to his post links to my talk and the associated powerpoints.

I will be interested to see if he does.

And, at a considerable tangent ...  . Friday morning I finished reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. Before boarding my plane for D.C. I downloaded the Kindle of the sequel. Before boarding my plane back to San Jose Sunday I downloaded the Kindle of the third and final book in the series. I finished it Sunday night.

Very good stories with original ideas—I highly recommend them. Provided you don't have much that urgently needs doing in the next few days.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Leo Rosten on Revealed Preference

I have a very small collection of economics jokes, not jokes about economics but jokes that teach economics. Browsing Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, I found another one:
"My father was so mad yesterday," said little Morris, "that five separate times he wanted to give me a frosk."

"How do you know it was exactly five times?"
"Because I counted."
"What did you count?"
"The number of times he hit me."
"I thought you said he wanted to hit you."
"I did. Would he have hit me if he hadn't wanted to?"

A reader who remembers my past posts better than I do points out that I blogged this joke once already, a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Making Sense of Bits of the Argument

Many parts of the argument over AGW are sufficiently complicated so that, unless you are a professional in the field, there is no good way of telling who to believe. The result is that most people simply believe whatever story supports what they see as their side. An example would be the question of whether AGW will increase or decrease food supplies.

Once in a while, however, someone offers a contribution to the debate that is obviously dishonest—obviously enough so that a careful reader can spot the trick. The fact that there are dishonest people on one side or the other of the argument does not tell you that that side is wrong. But how their argument is treated by other people on that side does give you some information on who you should or should not trust. Any source of information—newspaper, web page, scientific journal, blog—that takes seriously work which a careful reader can see is dishonest should not be trusted, since it is either dishonest or incompetent.

I have two and a half examples from the CAGW side of the argument, the claim that, unless we take strong measures to slow AGW, the net results will be very bad. One is an article that tries to obscure the positive effect of CO2 fertilization by claiming that a change which increases the yield of every nutrient threatens human nutrition—because it increases some by more than others. One is the source of the much quoted 97% figure, along with a later piece in which the lead author misrepresents the result of his own work. One is a piece in a high profile popular publication by an economist arguing that AGW is a threat that requires immediate action—and reporting results of his own research that imply the opposite, but reporting them in a form that hides the fact. I count that as a half because I am not sure that the deception was deliberate.

What I find depressing is how few people, faced with clear evidence that someone on their side of the argument is dishonest, are willing to accept it.

I invite people to offer similar examples on the other side. They should be publications by respectable figures that meet two conditions:

1. They are obviously dishonest--obvious enough so that the demonstration does not depend on trusting some other source with the opposite bias.

2. They are taken seriously by lots of reputable people on that side of the argument.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Does Obama Want Trump to be Nominated?

1. Obama may well believe that Trump is the easiest of the likely Republican nominees to defeat.

2. Obama surely knows that he is not popular with the people who vote in Republican primaries.

3. Obama publicly attacks Trump.

Is Youtube an Adequate Substitute for Me?

Quite often, when I give a talk, someone records it, often as video, and webs it. That raises a question relevant to what talks I give: Is watching the video a reasonably close substitute for attending the talk?

If it is, then once a talk has been webbed there isn't much reason to give that talk again. Anyone interested can watch the video, and two recordings are no better than one. So I should make more of a point than I do of expanding the range of talks I give. I currently have, at a guess, five or ten that I have given multiple times. But with a little effort, there could be more.

This links to a question that has puzzled me for a long time. One common pattern in schooling is the mass lecture—a professor speaking to an audience in the hundreds with students taking notes.  In the fourteenth century, that made a lot of sense as a low cost way of spreading knowledge, but why did it survive the invention of the printing press? 

The author of a book can do a much more careful job of presenting information than a lecturer can. A student is lucky to attend a class by the best lecturer at his school—he can choose to read the best book on the subject that has ever been written. Lectures must be attended at a fixed time, books can be read on the reader's schedule. A lecture goes at the same speed for everyone in the audience—when reading a book, you can go quickly over the obvious parts, slowly over the parts you find difficult. A small class permits a substantial amount of interaction between teacher and students, but with a mass lecture that is reduced to at most a few questions followed by responses and the author of a book can include in it responses to the usual questions.

Nonetheless, mass lectures continue to be given. Which suggests to me that there is something I do not understand very well about the realspace interaction between speaker and listener, some reason why, for many people, the lecture works better than the book.

And, perhaps, the live lecture better than the video.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Anyone want a talk near London near July 2nd?

I am going to be giving a talk for the IEA in London on July 2nd. Is anyone else in the general area interested in a talk? "General area" includes anything within a few hours of London, further for people prepared to provide an interesting audience and pay expenses, further still for people prepared to provide an interesting audience, expenses and an honorarium.