Category Archives: Science

Big Gov’t or Big Pharma…

The FDA regulatory environment essentially creates monopolies… and the patent lifetime laws on new pharmaceuticals gives companies only a tiny amount of time to recoup the losses of developing a new drug and then make enough profit to remain in business… add the two together and you get the expensive epipen and massive cost for the medicines we take. Sure the companies that have the quasi-monopolies love it, but these costs are mostly not due to evil big pharma corporations, it is due to the unintended (Charitable interpretation) effect of government regulations. Blaming the company is falling for the red herring… and also, having more government (such as proposed in the quote here by Hillary) will guarantee that new drugs will not be developed.
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Minimum Wage: Part II

It hasn’t been many years since my family income hovered around the poverty line.  We were frustrated by this because we were not uneducated, unskilled workers. My husband finished his BA the year after we were married and had been the primary anchor and news producer for AFKN for two years. It was a surprise to us that in the civilian market for news reporters and anchors military experience meant starting at the bottom and the bottom meant working for minimum wage. At first, more than half of our income was taken up by rent. We did not get food stamps or other aid preferring to operate within an older ethic that did not burden others for choices we had made. We pawned everything of value and did without.

I know the pain of being underemployed.  I empathize with those who are in a similar situation and on a personal level do whatever I can to soften the pain of going through this stage.  And Americans do go through this stage in the sense that “individuals do in fact move up and down the earnings hierarchy all the time (Schiller and Mukhopadhyay, pg. 16). Although young people start in the lowest income quintile they do not need to expect to stay there.  This mobility between income quintiles is well documented and not disputed between economists of different schools (Schiller and Mukhopadhyay).

Whatever facts and experience tell us, the pain of being a low wage earner is difficult for those in the midst of it and for those who believe that any inequality that exists should be remedied by the government. According to Balanced Politics.org, this is one of the common arguments for raising the minimum wage: “Workers need a minimum amount of income from their work to survive and pay the bills.” After all, if inflation makes all the prices go up, it seems reasonable that the minimum wage should rise to meet it so that our poorest people are not the ones to suffer.  It makes a sort of sense to “force businesses to share some of the vast wealth with the people that help to produce it” (BalancedPolitics.org).

While this reasoning shows a lack of fundamental economic understanding, the intentions of politicians and voters who want to increase the minimum wage law seem to be good. They don’t like to see people suffer and they feel that it is such an easy way to minimize the suffering of some of our poorest people. They want to be compassionate and fair. These are seen to be the best virtues by which to evaluate the ethical nature of the law. If it is unfair that people earn different amounts of money, then to guarantee the lowest earners enough to live on is a way to approach fairness or to compensate them for the income inequality they are suffering.

Unfortunately, closer analysis reveals a number of problems with the use of virtue ethics to judge laws.  First, there are differing ideas about which virtue should be at the top of our national agenda. At one time the virtue of personal industry was paramount and laws which tended to diminish personal industry lost their support. At another time, liberty was the highest virtue in American ideals so that laws that impinged on liberty did not go very far. Virtue ethical systems have this problem; it is inherent in the structure (Ethics Applied Edtion 6.0,Goree, Manias & Till, pg.164).

Furthermore, even if we were to agree that the goal of the minimum wage law was fairness and that fairness was the most important virtue to consider, further analysis would be necessary. Fairness to the employee must be balanced with fairness to the employer and also to the customer.  Is it fair to penalize the person who takes the risks of owning a company in order to prop up earners who are just at the beginning of their earning trajectory? Since we cannot even define fairness in this situation, is it fair to impose a minimum wage law?

Note: We pick up next time with investigating the consequences of minimum wage as a method to assess its fairness.

Cold with a side of Doom

I had planned to write a long post with more of my own ideas based off of this essay at Watts Up With That: The Climate-Grain Production Relationship Quantified. But instead, work intervenes again, and here is the nugget. You should certainly read the linked article too.

It should be relatively obvious that the sooner in the year that it gets cold and the later it gets warm, the fewer crops can be grown. I am sure I have beat the solar cooling drum before, though not to peddle alarmism. Rather to argue for genetically modified food and the unleashing of human potential to innovate and not just survive a potentially upcoming ‘little ice age’ but to this time avoid civilizational collapse as well. First, here is a graphic of the past and predicted solar cycle: clip_image008_thumbOf course, you should for this post ignore the fact that the global warming of the previous decades is surprisingly coincident with a solar maximum. instead, notice that the possible loss in corn yield, 21% loss… and who would this affect most? clip_image014_thumbWell, everyone of course, since problems in the middle east and Asia very rapidly become everyone’s problems.

However, rather than shout Doom! we should follow Mitch Daniels’ advice.

Potential Allies

The post-modern ‘proof’ of existence seems to me to be a truncated form of Descartes. Descartes started with what he knew you could know: that, in fact, some thing ‘I’ can think. He then proceeded to prove that I was an existence, and then that God must exist. Then since God exists, everything that ‘I’ observe exists at least somewhat like ‘I’ observe it. This framework is far more subjective than I would posit, however it is a usable framework for thinking and living. I made a graph after the nature of reaction profiles. (If you have had some chemistry, you may recognize the format.) As you proceed from left to right you are following the case for the worldview and as you go up, importance increases.Untitled-1Let us contrast that to a post-modern fully subjective worldview is like.Untitled-1aThis latter figure is the new worldview. This worldview has several repercussions. For now, though, I’ll only mention one. Everything includes ideas, thoughts, truth, good, evil, right, wrong, cowardice, and valor. Since existence is defined by the mind and thoughts of the one existing, it is not necessarily the case that something observed by one is true to the other. The only reason, in this scenario, for truth and reality to be agreed upon (such as everyone agreeing on what is green) is social conditioning and pressure. There is no ground for insisting that something is wrong outside of societal norms.

This worldview is antithetical in every way to two things: religions of revealed Truth (Specifically Christianity, but that is another topic for another time.) and science. That’s why I think scientists should swallow their anti-religion pride and make some common cultural cause with the strict traditionalists of the Church in the arena of absolute, knowable, transmittable and immutable truth.

You see, if truth is only a construct of the mind, then science cannot exist. Science depends upon the core belief that the truth is knowable and constant. Our knowledge of it is flawed and in constant flux, in constant need of study, experiment, update and thought. If truth is not timeless and knowable, then a consensus of quality minds actually would define truth and therefore science. If that were the case, then the sun did indeed revolve around the earth for Ptolemy, while much later, after some cataclysmic solar revolution, it now is orbited by the earth due in large part to Galileo.geocentric

Every scientist, and probably every person not fully committed to the conclusions of this worldview, would find this ridiculous. And yet one academic department after another has fallen to this worldview. Perhaps because they are not grounded in observation, or perhaps because scientists are a particular brand of curmudgeon, the humanities have fallen first, long ago. Now however, even the hard sciences are under attack. The global warming consensus is (although it mayn’t be a consensus after all) the only consistent argument in favor of the theory and people peddle it as fact. Man-made global warming may indeed be fact, but there is not one model made to predict the future warming that predicted the current pause. When all the models are wrong, it usually means something about the assumptions of the modelers.

Again, if truth is only a construct of the mind, objective religion cannot exist. Religion is demoted to ‘something that makes you feel better’ which puts it into the category of whiskey. woodford

If that is the case, then anything in the religion that makes you feel upset or threatened must not be true –for you. Maybe someone else feels better knowing that God condemns sexual immorality of all sorts, then this religious belief is true for them.  And if a large enough group of spiritual people agree that something is acceptable for god, then, it must be. That of course leads to the absurd idea that god was pleased by the Mayan human sacrifices. If that were the case, then you could very easily argue not just that societies make their own gods in the image that pleases them, but that god must also actually exist for their believing created it. I am sure this scenario sounds more plausible than the Ptolemy scenario above. That feeling is just the result of the overwhelming nature of the subjective worldview in every domain but the hard sciences.

So that is why I recommend not just a peace treaty between traditional Church leader and scientists but active cultural cooperation. The Church is not in any danger of being wiped out by a fleeting theory in the minds of men, but science may well have to come and take shelter inside the doors of the Church, running for sanctuary from those that scientists currently think are science’s friend.

If this happens, you can count on churchmen to preserve everything they can, just like last time the forces of nihilism swept the western world. But before that, why not pick up a sword and fight in the streets of civilization (the enemy is long through the walls) alongside the Church for Truth and civilization and life?

Anti-Science

Conservatives are often accused (wrongly and idiotically) of being ‘anti-science’. There are so many thoughts I have here that it will be very hard to avoid digressions of every sort. Due to the massive ignorance pervasive in modern America it seems that, in fact, the most ‘anti-science’ institution int he country is the educational system. Fighting words, I know, but consider: the guiding belief of almost everyone who teaches in schools, elementary, high, and college, is that absolutes, truth, facts, do not really exist outside the reference frame, or narrative, of the person or people who believe it. I can hardly think of any philosophy more antithetical to science than that.

The infection of this belief into the academic disciplines is not uniform, but it is spreading. For instance, the humanities are almost entirely overwhelmed, since it is easier to subvert objective fact. (Witness Howard Zinn, who’s seminal work would not have even been glanced at if it had been instead ‘A Peoples Perspective of Inorganic Chemistry’ and contained several  sections that ‘played fast and loose with the facts’.) While it has yet to make its way into the main body of chemistry there is a serious attempt by some chemists and many non-scientists to mug the whole meaning of science and replace it with the idea that a consensus of smart people determines the facts, and questioning their agreement is ‘anti-science’. The serious trouble is that most people, who have been taught this philosophy of thought and truth treat science the same way as they treat anything else, as if some things can be true for some people and not all people.

And this brings me to the topic I really wanted to mention: what my new favorite (well, the only one I read) chemistry blog calls ‘chemophobia‘.

Personally, I think the greatest failure of our field over the past three decades has been the steady decline of the public image of chemistry. Our “brand” has steadily deteriorated from an apex of “better living through chemistry” in the 1970s to the ever-worsening current climate where “chemicals are bad” and products are nonsensically advertized as “chemical-free”.

These are people who don’t want fertilizer on the plants that grew their food, or pesticides, or fungicides, or genetic modifications. These are people who have been swept up in outright fear of anything chemistry. They want to be soothed by ‘all-natural’, ‘no GMO’ markings. They don’t know, or purposefully forget that these chemicals are why more and more people can eat from the agricultural produce of less and less land. They also seem happy to forget that every single medication they take, (every drag of marijuana), every breath of air, is chemistry. Its odd, and ChemBark has some theories as to why people are afraid of chemicals, and some thoughts of fighting back in the public awareness.

1939_A_BetterThings_Detail_Horizontal_960x766Better Things for Better Living… Through Chemistry

Here is one more theory. Some time ago, while chemistry was in its most recent hey-day, the professors of chemistry, the researchers, started receiving more and more of their money from government funding. This coupled with the growing dislike, and then even sometimes hatred, in the academic world of the kinds of companies that actually use chemistry (Oil companies , pharmaceuticals, etc…) caused chemistry’s best advocates to secluded themselves, doing arcane and sometimes pointless research. And so, little by little, even the chemists became embarrassed of chemistry, because everything chemistry that non-academic people were in contact with were things that they 1) had not financial or academic interest in, and 2) from business sectors that they found repugnant.

So, I think to help chemistry’s image, we chemists should do two things. First, gather together with all scientists and engineers and bite the awkward bullet that they will be making common cause with fundamentalist theologians, and fight for the recognition of knowable, absolute truth. And secondly, be proud enough ourselves of what chemists do for people in the industries that chemists are indispensable to. We should certainly teach students about the horrible things done with chemistry (Horrible only if you have an immutable moral truth, by the way…) but we should also teach them about the things that people have saved with chemistry. That and we shouldn’t stand for defective education, either in the sciences or in the humanities.

Bill Nye: The Red Car

Introducing red car Friday!
From now on, until I get bored of it, every Friday will feature a red car, like last week’s post on the middle ages. Also, whenever I can there will be other posts too… but here is today’s red car.
bmw-z4-red-car
Bill Nye… the science guy…. You see him here and there on the news, expounding, pontificating, telling people what they should believe and what they shouldn’t believe. Here he is at Smithsonian magazine where the subtitle is: ‘The famous scientist cuts through the global warming noise and lays out the facts.’

And by the way, if you go watch it (embedding wasn’t working for some reason.) the bottles are absolutely nothing like our atmosphere with its many, barely understood equilibration systems. It is a horrible example.

Anyway, that’s Bill Nye… ‘famous scientist’ here is another situation, at the commencement speech at Lehigh University, where he said that overpopulation is a huge world problem….

And Bill Nye, apparently a real scientist…. Talking about the OK tornado.

Bill Nye is an expert in basically everything!

He also really hates the idea of creationism

So, Bill Nye is apparently an expert in: Climate science, Evolutionary biology, demographics, basically he’s like a scientist at everything!!!! So I wondered… what, exactly, are his credentials as a scientist (other than, you know, being called ‘the science guy’ which is catchy and cool because it rhymes with his last name…)

Well, according to Wikipedia

‘He studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University (where one of his professors was Carl Sagan)[9] and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1977.[10] Nye began his career in Seattle at Boeing, where, among other things, he starred in training films and developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor still used in the 747. Later, he worked as a consultant in the aeronautics industry. In 1999 he told the St. Petersburg Times that he applied to be a NASA astronaut every few years, but was always rejected.[11]

I see… he took a class from a real physicist… and… he was repeatedly rejected by NASA so, that makes him a real scientist I guess. I don’t want to deny the possibilities of him being an autodidact, and mechanical engineers are certainly practical and solid thinkers by and large…. But his scientific credentials are remarkably…. thin. For instance in his scientific work, he made a sundial for the Mars rover… which sounds exactly like a project that would be given to a person who was included for the celebrity, rather than for their science…

It seems to me that his scientific credentials are:
1: He has a catchy name with Science in it
2: He endlessly repeats the most popular scientific shibboleths
3: ?????

Am I missing something that would give us good reason to listen to what Bill Nye (Real Scientist) says over someone (anyone) else?

Genetically Modified Food Supply

I wasn’t going to write this, because I have work to do. But…. I got hit by another red car this morning. The lunacy of people who absolutely reject genetically modified food. First off, I don’t see the problem, all our food is genetically modified, we just used to do it the long slow way. I don’t think any farmer a hundred years ago would perpetuate a low yielding strain of crop over a higher yielding one. I would suspect that since Gregor Mendel a lot of people took the slow way of genetically modifying our agriculture for improvements. Seriously, that’s the whole point to putting the best racehorses out to stud while the bad ones become glue… To me, the only difference between modern genetic modification and older versions is that we are trying to preemptively modify food to avoid blights and droughts causing famines… and we are better at it.

And one more thing about GM food, it would certainly help African countries feed their own. But with Europe’s shenanigans, the global market is hostile to GM food.

‘Economist and Political scientist Robert Paarlberg of the Harvard Kennedy Center wrote a book titled “Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is being kept out of Africa.”  In it he documents how post-colonial influence from Europe has driven regulatory decisions in many African countries so that they have a European-like hesitancy about GM crops.  Many don’t even allow any field testing.  Since Africa will be the center of most global population increase over the next several decades, this projection of what Paarlberg terms “rich world preferences” is certainly at odds with Africa’s need to produce as much of its own food as possible. This is particularly unfortunate because biotech crop improvements are “scale neutral.” They work just as easily for a 2,000 acre farm in Iowa as a 1 hectare farm in Africa, and in many cases they would be offered for free.  African farmers would very much like to have that opportunity.  Europe has also reduced its investment in international agricultural research which further compounds the problem.  Europe is also very slow to approve of new biotech events for the GMO crops that it does import,  causing logistical problems in the grain trade and often interfering with the hybrids and varieties New World farmers can utilize. ‘

And again, Japan imports a lot of wheat. In fact (according to the article linked below.) Japan imports 90% of its wheat, 60% of that from the US, and they just suspended an import because they think they detected GM wheat from the US. I find it a bit ridiculous that net importers of food don’t like how us net exporters grow it.

One last thing… the doomsday scenario. One of my hobbies is sitting around (drinking bourbon) and thinking up doomsday situations. Someday, some of them may become books, but unfortunately this one is real. It has happened before and it will happen again. You see, a little known factor in the devastation caused by the Black Death in Europe in 1348 and 1350 is that it was preceded by a series of famines, including one known as the Great Famine in 1315-1317 . The black death killed somewhere around 30% of European population, the great famine before it had killed around 10%. It was a century of catastrophe.

The onset of the Great Famine coincided with the end of the Medieval Warm Period. Between 1310 and 1330 northern Europe saw some of the worst and most sustained periods of bad weather in the entire Middle Ages, characterized by severe winters and rainy and cold summers.

Before the Medieval warm period, there was likely a Roman warm period… which ended around 400 AD which oddly enough was also a time of disasters for civilization.

Just my random thought, but  we very well may experience a cooler earth (due to decreased solar activity) and if we do, it is scientific and technological advances like fracking, burning oil rather than trees, and probably genetically modified food that will stand between civilization and starvation.