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History Debunked Refutes Critical Race Theory’s Rejection of Objective Fact

In this video from History Debunked, YouTuber and author Simon Webb attacks Critical Race Theory’s epistemology. Critical Race Theory is the theory of racial politics, devised by American Marxists, that Blacks are the victims of institutional racism. As the video states, Critical Race Theory has largely been confined to the US for the past 40 years, but is now being adopted in Britain. It was the McPherson report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which introduced the idea of institutional racism in Britain with its conclusion that the Met was institutional racist. Since then a number of other organisations have also been accused of institutional racism, including the NHS.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with knowledge. There is a difference between subjective and objective knowledge. The statement that light moves at 186,000 miles per second is objectively true. It can be tested. But the statement that X hates someone is subjective, as it is difficult to prove objectively. In the West, knowledge is generally regarded as objective fact. But Critical Race Theory rejects objective fact in favour of ‘Standpoint Epistemology’. This is the view that the opinions and perceptions of minorities are what matter, and these should be accepted uncritically, as demanding objective proof or questioning them is a form of oppression. The video also states that the theory also promotes instead of facts the stories Black people tell amongst themselves. These stories, which may include myths, are to be regarded as incontrovertible truth, and should similarly not be subjected to criticism or testing.

The video illustrates this by citing the views of a young Black woman, Yomimi, in an article published by the Beeb, and the Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle. The Beeb article is about the higher percentage of graduate unemployment among Blacks. Yomimi is quoted as saying that she feels it is due to institutional racism, and that employers automatically reject applicants from Black and Asian candidates, whose names are difficult to pronounce. This was the subject of a previous video by History Debunked yesterday, in which he argued against this assertion. Official statistics show that Chinese and Indians are slightly better at obtaining jobs than Whites, but Chinese names are notoriously difficult for westerners to pronounce. However, the Chinese generally do better in education than Whites, while fewer Blacks than Whites obtain two or more ‘A’ levels. Black unemployment may therefore have more to do with poor Black academic performance than institutional racism amongst employers. But what is important about the article is that Yomimi is not asked to provide supporting facts for her arguments. It is just how she feels or sees the situation.

Similarly, Markle said little in her interview with Winfrey that could be objectively verified. Significantly, Winfrey thanked Markle for speaking her ‘truth’. This sounds strange to British ears, but it’s part of the same viewpoint that rejects objective truth in favour of feelings and perceptions.

I’ve no doubt that racism exists in this country, and the police force, especially the Met, has been notorious for the racism of some of its officers. Racism appears to be one explanation for the Met’s failure to prosecute Lawrence’s murderers, but they were also the sons of notorious London gangsters. An alternative explanation was that the cops were afraid of prosecuting them because of their fathers, or else were corrupt and on their payroll. Private Eye also stated a few years ago that an Asian and White lad were also separately the victims of racist murders, and the Met was similarly negligent about finding and prosecuting their killers but that there was no mention of this.

The rejection of objective fact, however, is a fundamental element of Postmodernism and its moral and cultural relativism. Instead, it sees every culture and viewpoint as equal. Way back in the 1990s I tried to do an MA on British Islam at my old College. As part of it, my supervisor sent me to several Cultural Studies seminars, which were thoroughly postmodern. These were on colonial or western views of extra-European cultures. The attitude really did seem to be that westerners really couldn’t understand or appreciate other cultures, who should thus be exempt from western criticism. Any attempt to do so was dangerously prejudiced and ‘othering’.

Unfortunately, parts of the women’s movement have also been contaminated by this irratrionalism. In their book Intellectual Impostures, Sokal and Bricmont, one an American left-wing mathematician and physicist, the other a Belgian philosopher, attack postmodern philosophy and particularly its appropriation of scientific concepts. These are used nonsensically to give an appearance of depth and profundity to arguments that are actually absurd and incoherent nonsense. In one chapter they attack a number of postmodern feminist writers, who refuse to use conventional logical argument because logic and objective are patriarchal concepts that mentally imprison women. I am not joking, and this is most definitely not a wind-up.

A friend of mine came across this attitude, also back in the 1990s, in the women’s committee of the local branch of the National Union of Students. He was told by someone who worked with it, that it was one of three autonomous committees, whose conclusions were automatically passed as NUS policy. The other committees were for Black and LGBTQ students. The women’s committee similarly rejected logic and objective fact. Instead their debates supposedly consisted of them largely talking about their experiences of sexual abuse before concluding with their recommendation on a particularly issue. Which was passed with no debate. This situation should have been unacceptable. I have every sympathy for anyone who has been sexually abused, but official decisions need to be based on logical argument and proper debate, not entirely subjective feelings and personal history unless these are directly relevant to the matter.

Sokal and Bricmont were highly critical of this feminist rejection of logic, not least because it was based on a very traditional view, that has been used to exclude women from authority. For centuries women were largely excluded from a number of professions and political power on the basis that they, unlike men, were emotional rather than reasonable and logical. The Nazis used the same argument to justify their removal of women from the workplace and politics. They also believed in Cultural Relativism, and what was appropriate for one race was unsuitable for others. This is shown in their denunciation of democracy as ‘Jewish’. Now cultural relativism and the rejection of objective fact in favour of feelings and perceptions is being promoted as empowering for Blacks and women.

Proper discussion of racism is entirely appropriate, especially given the continuing poverty and marginalisation of the Black community. But this has to be done through rational discussion and argument, backed up with facts and statistics. And this means a rejection of Postmodernism and Critical Race Theory’s theory of knowledge.

Oz: When it Rains it Pours.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 6:05pm in

Tags 

Australia, Science

Weather extremes have always been a feature of this great southern land. The thing is that those changes seem to be getting more extreme and more frequent and more extended geographically, affecting places normally free of them

 

Yes, Australia is a land of flooding rains. But climate change could be making it worse Etching of the 1867 flood in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley, depicting the Eather family. illustrated Sydney News/author provided Joelle Gergis, Australian National University

Over the past three years, I’ve been working on the forthcoming report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I’m a climate scientist who contributed to the chapter on global water cycle changes. It’s concerning to think some theoretical impacts described in this report may be coming to life – yet again – in Australia.

The recent flooding in New South Wales is consistent with what we might expect as climate change continues.

Australia’s natural rainfall patterns are highly variable. This means the influence climate change has on any single weather event is difficult to determine; the signal is buried in the background of a lot of climatic “noise”.

But as our planet warms, the water-holding capacity of the lower atmosphere increases by around 7% for every 1℃ of warming. This can cause heavier rainfall, which in turn increases flood risk.

The oceans are also warming, especially at the surface. This drives up both evaporation rates and the transport of moisture into weather systems. This makes wet seasons and wet events wetter than usual.

So while Australia has always experienced floods, disasters like the one unfolding in NSW are likely to become more frequent and intense as climate change continues.

People watch swollen river Flooding is likely to become more severe as the planet warms. AAP Understanding the basics

To understand how a warming world is influencing the water cycle, it’s helpful to return to the theory.

From year to year, Australia’s climate is subject to natural variability generated by the surrounding Pacific, Indian and Southern oceans. The dominant drivers for a given year set up the background climate conditions that influence rainfall and temperature.

It is a combination of these natural climate drivers that makes Australia the land of drought and flooding rains.

However, Australia’s climate variability is no longer influenced by natural factors alone. Australia’s climate has warmed by 1.4℃ since national records began in 1910, with most of the warming occurring since 1970. Human-caused greenhouse emissions have influenced Australian temperatures in our region since 1950.

This warming trend influences the background conditions under which both extremes of the rainfall cycle will operate as the planet continues to warm. A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture (higher water vapour content), which can lead to more extreme rainfall events.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture which can lead to more extreme rainfall events. Climate Council

Since the winter of 2020, Australia has been influenced by the La Niña phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Historically, sustained La Niña conditions, sometimes with the help of a warmer than average Indian Ocean, have set the scene for severe flooding in eastern Australia.

During these events, easterly winds intensify and oceans around Australia warm. This is associated with the Walker Circulation – a giant seesaw of atmospheric pressure that influences the distribution of warm ocean waters across the Pacific Ocean.

The last La Niña occurred in 2010–2012. It led to widespread flooding across eastern Australia, with particularly devastating effects in Queensland. The event caused the wettest two-year period in the Australian rainfall record, ending the 1997–2009 Millennium Drought.

Oceanographers from UNSW studied the exceptional event. They demonstrated how a warmer ocean increased the likelihood of extreme rain during that event, primarily through increased transport of moist air along the coast.

Their analysis highlighted how long‐term ocean warming can modify rain-producing systems, increasing the probability of extreme rainfall during La Niña events.

It is important to point out that changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns are still not as well understood as fundamental changes in thermodynamics. However, because regional rainfall changes will be influenced by both factors, it will take researchers time to tease everything out.

So what about climate change?

The theoretical changes to the global water cycle are well understood. However, determining the contribution of natural and human influences on climate variability and extremes – known as “attribution” – is still an emerging science.

More studies are needed to distinguish natural or “background” rainfall variability from recent human-caused changes to the water cycle. This is particularly the case in a country like Australia, which has very high yearly rainfall variability. This contrasts with some regions of the Northern Hemisphere with less variable rainfall, where a clear climate change signal has already emerged.

Right now, La Niña conditions are decaying in the Pacific Ocean. As expected, the 2020–2021 La Niña has brought above-average rainfall to much of eastern Australia. This helped ease the severe drought conditions across eastern Australia since 2017, particularly in NSW.

NSW rainfall total, week ending March 22, 2021 NSW rainfall totals for the week ending March 22, 2021. Bureau of Meteorology

What’s interesting about the 2020–2021 La Niña is that it was weak compared with historical events. The relationship between La Niña and rainfall is generally weaker in coastal NSW than further inland. However, it’s concerning that this weak La Niña caused flooding comparable to the iconic floods of the 1950s and 1970s.

The rainfall totals for the current floods are yet to be analysed. However, early figures reveal the enormity of the downpours. For example, over the week to March 23, the town of Comboyne, southwest of Port Macquarie, recorded an extraordinary 935mm of rainfall. This included three successive days with more than 200mm.

The NSW coast is no stranger to extreme rainfall – there have been five events in the past decade with daily totals exceeding 400mm. However, the current event is unusual because of its duration and geographic extent.

It’s also worth noting the current extreme rainfall in NSW was associated with a coastal trough, not an East Coast Low. Many of the region’s torrential rainfall events in the past have resulted from East Coast Lows, although their rainfall is normally more localised than has been the case in this widespread event.

Remember that as the air warms, its water-holding capacity increases, particularly over the oceans. Current ocean temperatures around eastern and northern Australia are about 1℃ warmer than the long-term average, and closer to 1.5℃ warmer than average off the NSW coast. These warmer conditions are likely to be fuelling the systems driving the extreme rainfall and associated flooding in NSW.

Sea surface temperature anomalies along the NSW coast. Bureau of Meteorology A nation exposed

Weather and climate are not the only influences on extreme flood events. Others factors include the shape and size of water catchments, the presence of hard surfaces in urban areas (which cant’t absorb water), and the density of human settlement in flood-prone areas.

The Hawkesbury–Nepean region in Western Sydney, currently experiencing major flooding, is a prime example. Five major tributaries, including the Warragamba and Nepean Rivers, flow into this extensively urbanised valley.

Improving our understanding of historical weather data may help improve future climate change risk assessment. For example, past floods in the Hawkesbury–Nepean have been a lot worse than the current disaster. In 1867, the Hawkesbury River at Windsor reached 19.7 metres above normal, and in 1961 peaked at 14.5 metres. This is worse than the 13.12 metres above normal recorded at Freemans Reach on March 23.

It’s sobering to think the Hawkesbury River once peaked 6 metres higher than what we’re seeing right now. Imagine the potential future flooding caused by an East Coast Low during strong La Niña conditions.

It will take time before scientists can provide a detailed analysis of the 2020–2021 La Niña event. But it’s crystal clear that Australia is very exposed to damage caused by extreme rainfall. Our theoretical understanding of water cycle changes tells us these events will only become more intense as our planet continues to warm.The Conversation

Joelle Gergis, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia or Sweden: which has had the better 2020?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 12:04am in

Compared to the trends on January 2020, has Australia or Sweden lost more wellbeing in 2020? And which has seen the greater damage to expected future wellbeing years for after 2020? The Table below summarizes the answers to this.

For the first calculation, let us only count the main elements going into the wellbeing of these two countries in 2020: the experienced wellbeing of the population in 2020 and the excess deaths in 2020. Lots of the other things we normally look at in these covid-calculations, such as changes to GDP, will show up in the anticipated effects for after 2020.

Lost Wellbeing years in Sweden and Australia due to covid and lockdowns

in 2020

beyond 2020

Australia
Sweden
Australia
Sweden

Lockdown Misery
510000
62400
?
?

Excess deaths
-56
3000
-280
15000

Future debt repayment

7773333
886340

Loss per million
20077
6288
306026
86667

Ratio
3

3.5

First, what was the wellbeing drop in Australia? Well, an ANU-sponsored longitudinal panel found a drop from 6.9 to 6.5 in their life-satisfaction poll from January to April, a huge decline that is similar to the drop in the UK. This panel is based on over 3,000 individuals, which is why this drop is strongly statistically significant.

What about the rest of 2020 in Australia though? The same ANU team, headed by Professor Biddle said at the end of 2020 about the lockdowns in Australia that they were “a massive hit to happiness, experienced by Australians from all walks of life”. They document the increased inequality and how things are particularly bad among the young and the vulnerable in general. Their key graph for the whole of 2020 is above.

This graph aggregates the changes in Australia in the various states, though the ANU team found one can clearly see that life satisfaction plummets in every state during a lockdown but recovers very quickly afterwards, so the top graph is essentially directly related to the average severity of lockdowns in Australia. Now, in terms of actual numbers, we should note that relative to December 2019-Jan 2020, (6.95 on average), Australia from March onwards had an average of around 6.8: the country was right back at the end of 2020 when there almost no lockdowns anywhere, but experiencing various degrees of suffering at other periods.

Now, how bad is an average loss of 0.15 for 9 months, ie a loss of 0.1 for the whole of 2020? A loss of 0.1 means a loss for the 25.4 million Australians of 2.54 million units of wellbeing (called WELLBYs). Since a wellbeing level of 2 is when individuals are, roughly speaking, indifferent between continued living or not, and a regular wellbeing year is spent at level 7, a regular year of life in Australia is worth 5 units of wellbeing. So the 2.54 million lost units are equivalent to 510,000 lost years of wellbeing in Australia in 2020.

In that 510,000 wellbeing years is all the misery caused by lockdowns and social distancing: all the cancelled weddings, all the additional cases of depression, all the extra anxiety, all the worry about unemployment, all the loneliness, all the abused women who could not escape, all the people who were not helped at hospitals, all the people whose IVF treatments were cancelled, etc. These numbers are also born out by other Australian surveys, such as on the strongly worsened mental health situation of Australia’s youth due to barred access to school, evidenced in official reports. The fact that the media does not talk about these lockdowns-victims much doesn’t mean this suffering does not exist.

One can note, btw, that the data just released by the World Happiness Report 2021 fits in perfectly with this picture in that the drop reported there for Australia since 2019 of about 0.1 refers to data gathered in February to mid-March 2020, so largely before the drop but just nipping its first beginnings, hence the drop you expect you see for that period.

And wellbeing in Sweden? Unfortunately for Sweden, there is no neat large panel gathered during the whole year like there is for Australia to base the numbers on, but we do have some comparable data. What we know for Sweden is that, unlike in strong lockdown-countries like the UK or Victoria in Australia, there was no drop in the main wellbeing indicator (life-satisfaction) in the first weeks of the panic in Sweden: Kivi et al. (2020) found among the group one expects to see a drop (the 65-75 year olds) no change in their life satisfaction in early April relative to the previous year, just as, by the way, found in places like the Netherlands which in that period had very light lockdowns.

For the rest of the year, the data for Sweden is patchy. An imperial college panel covering the period after the initial lockdowns(so not the early change) found no significant drop in life satisfaction over time in Sweden for the rest of 2020, but that is essentially because that panel is extremely small (50-100 observations per two-week period). Yet, if we aggregate that data over three month periods, we see that there was a drop in the last 6 months of 2020 relative to the April-June period of 2020. Not a significant drop, but the drop was concentrated in the last 3 months which was when the Swedish government was over-riding its health authority with more restrictions, so exactly the period you do expect to see a drop. So on the balance of probabilities, Sweden probably did have a slight drop in 2020, concentrated in the last 3 months, amounting to a drop over the whole year of 0.03 (this is very close btw, to the insignificant small drop found for the 2020 Gallup data for Sweden underlying the World Happiness Report).

Does this make sense if you look at the policies?. Sweden did not close the schools, which is the thing that has been found to cause massive wellbeing losses among the young and their parents in other countries. Sweden also did not prevent the generations from mixing or friends and workers socialising, which are the big elements in the drop elsewhere. So the lack of a big drop fits with what we know does the damage to wellbeing in strong lockdown places. But the government in Sweden did become more difficult about travel and socialising at the end of 2020. If we go with the data we have available then one should say wellbeing remained constant in Sweden for most of 2020 but probably did drop in the last few months.

Then the excess deaths in Australia and Sweden. The notion of excess deaths depends on what one counts as expected deaths, which is not so easy to say and on which reasonable people can disagree. Yet, the simplest thing to do is to just look at how many deaths there were in 2020 more than the average of 2015-2019. The Oxford group looking into this found that, at the time of recording, there were 112 less deaths in Australia in 2020. In comparison, in Sweden there were 5983 more deaths in 2020. So here we see the benefits of Australia having avoided a large glut of covid deaths, and perhaps also less traffic deaths, less flu deaths, and other sources of death. Sweden too will probably have avoided some traffic deaths and of course many who died of covid would have died in 2020 anyway, reducing the Swedish measured excess deaths to well below their reported number of covid-deaths.

On the other hand, the breakdown in the functioning of much of the health system in Australia during local lockdowns will have meant more cancer deaths and deaths from other preventable health problems. The balance seems to be 112 less deaths in total. Note that these numbers are relatively small. The 6000 extra deaths in Sweden in 2020 means a loss of around 3000 wellbeing years in 2020 (because people on average died in the middle of the year and thus lost 6 months in 2020), whilst the 112 less deaths in Australia meant a gain of 56 wellbeing years.

So Australia in 2020 lost 510,000 wellbeing years, but did gain 56 wellbeing years at the same time because of those 112 less excess deaths. Sweden lost 3000 wellbeing years because of their excess 6000 deaths and 62,400 lost wellbeing years from the probable drop at the end of 2020. This comes with a very simple conclusion: 2020 was a relatively horrible year for Australia. Per one million citizens, Australians lost 3 times more wellbeing than Sweden. The fact that the media chooses to focus on the minuscule gains and not the enormous losses is essentially a form of dismissal of the misery of those who have lost. As if they don’t exist.

So Australia compared to Sweden has had a terrible 2020. But, you might wonder, how about losses yet to come after 2020 because of the things that happened in 2020. How about the lost years of life of those who died in 2020? And how about government debt, employment, and all that?

Well, the key statistic there is that Sweden has already absorbed the small peak of unemployment mid-2020 and has ended the year with 3% less GDP at the end of 2019, expected to rebound fully by the end of 2021. The extra government debt in 2020 was 6% of GDP, but the country had stopped running a deficit by the end of 2020. Now, that extra debt really matters because it means reductions in future government expenditure in order to pay back this debt. Equivalently, you might say that money could have been spent in 2020 to fund things that would have increased future wellbeing, such as via setting up mental health programs or improving the health service. As a rule of thumb, based on the finding that governments buy a wellbeing year for around 30,000 Euro (5 WELLBY which are generated by 6000 euro of government spending on average), 1% GDP debt in Sweden (which has 10 million inhabitants) costs Sweden 0.15 million wellbeing years in terms of the effect of those lower future government expenditure, so the extra debt will cost Sweden 886,340 wellbeing years.

How is Australia looking in this regard? Well, the surging iron ore prices have helped keep the 2020 GDP drop to around the same 3% in Australia in 2020, though it has to be said that the expected growth for 2020 was higher than in Sweden, so the drop is relatively bigger. The more relevant difference is the increase in debt: already 10% of GDP has been added to government debt in 2020, but unlike in Sweden, that debt is still climbing fast because of the closed borders and the extremely costly recurrent lockdowns. So the RBA expects the debt to climb at least another 10%. Paying back that debt will involve huge future wellbeing costs, as we are already starting to see with the announced cut-backs.

Per person, Australia and Sweden have essentially the same GDP. So the 10% additional debt in Australia of 2020 will cost Australia 3.9 million wellbeing years. The projected further debt of another 10% will cost another 3.9 million wellbeing years. That is 7.88 million lost wellbeing years in Australia in total.

The 6,000 extra deaths in Sweden of 2020 will going forward mean around 2.5 years of lost life each after 2020, meaning 15,000 lost wellbeing years in the future from those higher excess deaths. By the same token the 112 less excess deaths in Australia mean 288 gained wellbeing years to come.

Summarising just these basic effects, per 1 million inhabitants, in 2020 Sweden lost 6288 wellbeing years, made up of their higher excess deaths and a probable drop at the end of 2020. Australia lost 20,077 wellbeing years per million citizens in 2020, due to the misery of its much harsher intermittent lockdowns. Australians thus experienced a wellbeing drop of 3 times the Swedish wellbeing drop in 2020.

In terms of losses going forward, Sweden’s additional debt and higher excess deaths mean a loss of about 89 thousand wellbeing years per million Swedes. In contrast, the much higher and continuing government debt in Australia means a loss of about 306 thousand wellbeing years per million Australians. Australians thus should expect to lose 3.5 times as much wellbeing going forward as the average Swede.

I can mention that if I add disrupted IVF services, loss of child education, sectoral disruption, and loss of basic freedoms into this calculation, that Australia’s losses loom much worse still than Sweden since all these were much worse affected in Australia than Sweden. So you should see the calculations above as rigged to look good for Australia. I intend to do another post with an extended comparison when some of the key data on other effects, like the covid baby bust and the extent of unemployment in Australia, have become clear.

The conclusion is inescapable: in terms of the wellbeing of the population, which counts everything that makes life worthwhile, 2020 was a much worse year for Australia than Sweden, with the events of 2020 also blighting the future much more for Australia than for Sweden. The fact that much of its media and commentariat do not seem to realise this, tells you how abandoned the many victims of lockdown policies in Australia must feel.

[This post was updated on 17-18/04 after a commenter convinced me it was more reasonable to say Sweden did see a drop in wellbeing in the last 3 months of 2020 that should be reflected in the numbers. That of course changed the ratio of losses between Sweden and Australia because that is almost entirely related to the wellbeing drop among the general population in 2020.

I also took the opportunity to make the definition of a wellbeing year equal to 5 WELLBY for both countries (previously I used a lower number for Australia because Sweden is happier, but that just leads to confusion). For the GDP baseline I used 2019 GDP figures.]

New Idea Parade 17 - Plowin & Particles

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/04/2021 - 10:27pm in

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Science

Petless Couple Lavish Creepy Amounts Of Attention On Their Children

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/04/2021 - 7:00am in

Friends of a petless Kirrawee couple are concerned that they may be overcompensating for their lack of a cat or a dog by obsessing over their children.

“You go over to visit and like the kids are just running around inside the house as if they own the place,” said Phillipa Nerkle, good friend of Tony and Jane Fiddlesticks. “They wash them every day. Every day. And they take them out to a special place just to get their hair cut every month or so.”

“They actually take them with them when they go away on holidays”, said Phillipa’s incredulous husband Scotty. “The last time I was there one of the kids didn’t want to eat all its dinner and Jane finished it off for them, using the same knife and fork. I was almost ill.”

“They’re not just kids, they’re part of the family,” admitted Jane, who even changed her work schedule to part time so that she could stay at home and spend more time with them. “Tony and I tried to become dog owners but it just wasn’t to be. I know people look at us funny when we take the kids out in public dressed up in little outfits we’ve made for them.”

The Fiddlesticks’s crazy daily routine includes spending several hours playing with their children in a special part of the park set aside for children and their owners. At night they read them a bedtime story.

“You just can’t have a conversation with Jane where she doesn’t twist the subject around to what her children are doing,” said Janes frustrated sister Karen. “She was going on the other day about how one of her kids was walking. Big whoop. All kids walk.”

Peter Green
http://www.twitter.com/Greeny_Peter

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Disabled Girl Gets Bionic Arms Based on Movie ‘Alita’s’ Heroine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/04/2021 - 8:02pm in

Okay, I’m sorry I haven’t put anything up for the past week or so. It’s the usual reasons, I’m afraid: I’ve been busy with other things and for the most part, I simply haven’t found the week’s news inspiring. I felt there was precious little I could add to the excellent coverage and analyses given by Mike and Zelo Street. And so, rather than simply repeating what they had to say, I preferred to keep silent. But there are some stories that do need further comment, and I certainly intend to cover them. But before I do, here’s a more positive, rather heartwarming piece I found on YouTube.

It was put up by the tech company, Open Bionics, which makes state of the art, and very stylish, prosthetic limbs. Narrated by Hollywood director James Cameron, it tells how the company created a pair of superb artificial arms for British teenager Tilly Lockey. Lockey had lost her arms from septicaemia caused by meningitis. But, as Cameron shows, she had never let her disability hold her back, and the video shows Ms. Lockey as a junior school girl painting using an artificial arm. Cameron’s best known as the director of such hits as Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2, Avatar and Titanic, but he was also the producer of the film Alita – Battle Angel. Based on the Manga of the same name, Alita is the story of a mysterious cyborg girl, found by a doctor rummaging around the rubbish dump below an airborne city in which Earth’s rich and powerful live, far above ordinary masses, who live in the city below it. The doctor repairs the girl, who has lost her memory. Slowly Alita begins to recover bits of her history, joins the other cyborg players in a murderous sports race, attempts to become one of the cyborg warriors fighting crime and evil in this future world, and is forced to confront the villains controlling this new society from the floating city above it.

Cameron points out that cybernetic limbs are expensive, but the company is working to make them affordable. They’re also trying to make them attractive, which is why they’ve based those they’ve give to Tilly on the arms of Alita’s heroine. As well as getting the arms, the girl also got to attend the film’s premier.

I have a feeling Open Bionics might be based in Bristol. If I’m right, they used to be part of the cybernetics lab at the University of the West of England, which has done some impressive robotics research. The lab set up a commercial company to produce artificial limbs based on characters from Science Fiction movies.

As for Alita, I think it got mixed reviews. Some critics were spooked by the character’s large eyes, but I think that was simply following the artistic conventions of Manga comics and translating it to a live action film. Some critics said that while it wasn’t that good, it was actually far better than some of the rubbish being produced by Hollywood at the time. I’ve got it on video and liked it. There are rumours of a sequel being made, which would be great if they were true. But unfortunately the Coronavirus lockdown has meant that many Hollywood projects have had to be put on hold. The release of Denis Villeneuve’s much-awaited version of Dune has been postponed to October, when hopefully the cinemas will re-open.

The video’s obviously a piece of corporate promotion, but it’s great that the company and its talented engineers are working to make technologically impressive artificial limbs at affordable prices, and that they’ve given them to this spirited young lady. I have a feeling she’s also one of the women featured on the Shake My Beauty YouTube channel, which features other disabled women talking about life with their prosthetic limbs. While also demonstrating that having mechanical arms and legs certainly doesn’t make them less beautiful or capable of enjoying normal, physical activities including sports.

The Pandemic Timeline

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/04/2021 - 7:00am in

Trump’s lies are like zombies. Fact-checkers keep killing them, but he keeps bringing them back to life — and repeating them over and over again. The only antidote is the truth — repeated over and over again. Steven Harper is following the pandemic for Moyers on Democracy. Continue reading

The post The Pandemic Timeline appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Porter Tells The Nation’s Scientists To Hurry Up And Invent A Time Machine Or That Gun From Men In Black

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 31/03/2021 - 7:00am in

Australia’s newest Minister for Industry, Science And Innovation Christian Porter has called on the Nation’s scientists to “get cracking on inventing a time machine or better yet one of those guns from Men In Black that erases peoples memories.”

”It’s time for our scientists to start working on practical and useful inventions, like time machines or memory wiping guns,” said Minister Porter. ”I mean how many men could a memory wiping gun help?”

”If I had one of those I’d still be the Attorney General.”

When asked why he was so concerned with wiping people’s memories or travelling back in time, the Minister said: ”Well how else am I going to become Prime Minister?”

”It’s my destiny you know, everyone from my Grandfather to my Nanny, to our Families Driver has told me so.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am still on sick leave. Suing the National Broadcaster is stressful work you know.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

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NSF Bill Emphasizes Ethics, Includes Ethics Grants

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/03/2021 - 9:30pm in

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has introduced a bill for the funding of the National Science Foundation (NSF) that includes a noticeable emphasis on ethics in science.


[from the “Hypochondria” series by Klari Reis]

Section 7 (“Fundamental Research”), subsection (d), includes a recommendation to incorporate ethical considerations into the research design and review process for Federal funding of basic scientific research, a requirement that funding proposals include ethics statements, and the creation of grants for projects on the ethics of NSF-funded research and its upshots. Here’s the text from that section:

(d) RESEARCH ETHICS.—

(1) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that—
(A) a number of emerging areas of research have potential ethical, social, safety, and security implications that might be apparent as early as the basic research stage;
(B) the incorporation of ethical, social, safety, and security considerations into the research design and review process for Federal awards, may help mitigate potential harms before they happen;
(C) the Foundation’s agreement with the Academies to conduct a study and make recommendations with respect to governance of research in emerging technologies is a positive  step toward accomplishing this goal; and
(D) the Foundation should continue to work with stakeholders to understand and adopt policies that promote best practices for governance of research in emerging technologies at every stage of research

(2) ETHICS STATEMENTS.—Drawing on stakeholder input, not later than 18 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Director shall
amend award proposal instructions to include a requirement for an ethics statement to be included as part of any proposal for funding prior to making the award. Such statement shall be considered by the Director in the review of proposals, taking into consideration any relevant input from the peer-reviewers for the proposal, and shall factor into award decisions as deemed necessary by the Director. Such statements may include, as appropriate—
(A) any foreseeable or quantifiable risks to society, including how the research could enable products, technologies, or other outcomes that could intentionally or unintentionally cause significant societal harm;
(B) how technical or social solutions can mitigate such risks and, as appropriate, a plan to implement such mitigation measures; and
(C) how partnerships and collaborations in the research can help mitigate potential harm and amplify potential societal benefits.

(3) GUIDANCE.—The Director shall solicit stakeholder input to develop clear guidance on what constitutes a foreseeable or quantifiable risk as described in paragraph (2)(A), and to the extent practicable harmonize this policy with existing ethical policies or related requirements for human subjects.

(4) RESEARCH.—The Director shall award 25 grants, on a competitive basis, to institutions of higher education or non-profit organizations (or consortia of such institutions or organizations) to support—
(A) research to assess the potential ethical and societal implications of Foundation-supported research and products or technologies enabled by such research, including the benefits and risks identified pursuant to paragraph (2)(A); and
(B) the development and verification of approaches to proactively mitigate foreseeable risks to society, including the technical and so13 cial solutions identified pursuant to paragraph (2)(B).

(5) ANNUAL REPORT.—The Director shall encourage awardees to update their ethics statements as appropriate as part of the annual reports required by all awardees under the award terms and conditions.

The bill also includes a provision to establish a “Directorate for Science and Engineering Solutions.” Among the responsibilities of this office would be to incorporate a consideration of ethical, legal, and societal implications into the NSF’s priority-setting and funding decisions (Section 9(j)).

While philosophers have been and continue to be involved in NSF-funded projects, this new emphasis on ethics suggests a possible increase in opportunities for philosophers working in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of science, philosophy of technology, and related areas to have an influence on the shape of scientific research.

The entire bill is here.

(via Zachary Pirtle)

A modest proposal for generating useful analyses of economies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 28/03/2021 - 11:35am in

[Published in Real World Economic Review #95, Davies, Geoff (2021) “A modest proposal for generating useful analyses of economies: a brief note.” real-world economics review, issue no. 95, 22 March, pp. 118-123, http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue95/Davies95.pdf. Some other comments are at https://rwer.wordpress.com/comments-on-rwer-issue-no-95/ and https://rwer.wordpress.com/2021/03/25/a-modest-proposal-for-generating-u....

This is written for ‘heterodox’ economists, those who recognise mainstream (neoclassical) economics is nonsense, but who seem to flounder around not knowing what to do instead. It is a little more technical than my usual posts, but the message does not depend on the details.]

I propose that economists leave philosophy alone for a while and instead try analysing some actual economic observations.

I have observed much discussion among heterodox economists about what science comprises, whether one could do “scientific” economics, and what ontology, epistemology, etc, etc, might be involved. If, for example, economies are historically contingent, how could one hope to do a rigorous analysis. I have also observed much concern about the complications of people and societies and the resulting alleged need for elaborate statistical analyses to extract an object of interest, followed by the construction of an elaborate mathematical model that includes many nuances of human behaviour.

I think the challenge is not nearly so daunting. An economic analysis does not have to emulate the precision of (some) laboratory physics to be useful. It does not have to yield a literal prediction. If one steps out of the equilibrium mindset of the neoclassical mainstream one can find obvious phenomena crying out for explanation, a financial market crash for example.

It is not a great mystery how one might try to do some scientific economic analysis. Many kinds of scientist do science all the time, mostly without worrying about the philosophical nuances of precisely what kind of process they are engaged in.

The process I illustrate here is drawn from my experience studying Earth’s interior (Davies, 1999). It is a historical science. Earth’s processes are historically contingent and often very complicated. Observations of the interior are difficult, indirect and always incomplete. Yet we have developed considerable understanding of how the interior works to move continents and tectonic plates around the surface. Sometimes a very rough estimate can yield considerable insight.

What follows is expressed in terms that I think apply to many other kinds of science. Worrying about whether this process encompasses all kinds of science is precisely the sort of distraction I want to avoid. In avoiding the philosophy I do not mean to imply there is none involved, I simply want to get on with something that I know to work.

The process, in outline, is to seek some regularity or pattern or striking feature of an observable economy, and to propose a hypothesis that might account for the observed feature. The relationship of the hypothesis to the observation(s) ought to be explained. This might involve mathematics or it might not, and any mathematics used might be simple or sophisticated. Ideally some additional observations would be noted that are consistent with the implications of the hypothesis. One might then conclude by discussing whether the hypothesis appears to provide a useful description of the noted phenomenon and, if it does, how its usefulness might be further tested or enhanced. 

The currency of such enquiries is thus observations, hypotheses and useful resemblances. Nothing more obscure or contentious.

As an example of an observed phenomenon I offer the record of the US financial markets in the late 1980s (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. The Dow-Jones industrial average, 1986-1989

pastedGraphic.pdf

One can interpret this as a broad rising trend upon which is super-imposed a more rapid rise followed by a sudden drop. One might make other interpretations of a rather irregular plot, but that seems to be a useful description. 

This interpretation raises the question of what might cause the financial markets to rise unusually rapidly and then suddenly drop, i.e. the implied change of behaviour signals something that might be usefully investigated. An analogy can be made with population dynamics in ecosystems. A species, say rabbits, might find itself in a very favourable season, with a lot of food and few predators, and breed rapidly. If, however the rabbits eat the food faster than it can regenerate then they might find, rather suddenly, that there are lots of rabbits and hardly any food. Starvation might then ensue, with a sudden crash in rabbit numbers. Worse, they might have over-grazed the land and damaged its productive capacity.

This is known as an overshoot-and-crash phenomenon. It occurs because the feedback from food supply to breeding restraint is delayed. If there had been a wise old rabbit who persuaded the rabbits to slow their breeding as the carrying capacity of the land was approached then the population might have stabilised around a steady number. However rabbits are not so wise, and they keep breeding past the carrying capacity until the issue is forced by lack of food. By then it is too late to stabilise, and a disastrous crash is inevitable. 

So by analogy one might suppose that something triggers a burst of optimism among financial market traders and they borrow lots of money to “invest” (though really to bet on the market continuing to rise). This may continue until the amount of debt becomes more than can be reasonably repaid. There might then be a cascade of defaults that drive the market rapidly down. 

One can make a mathematical description of this process, in which the rate of growth of debt approaches zero as the “carrying capacity” of the economy is approached, but with a delay, so the amount of debt may overshoot the carrying capacity. How much overshoot will depend on the delay between the debt reaching the carrying capacity and the traders slowing their borrowing. It is assumed that during overshoot debt is extinguished, with a delay, by defaults at a rate that rises rapidly as the overshoot increases. Three solutions are shown in Figure 2, corresponding to delays of zero, 2 years and 3.5 years. The details of this model and further discussion of it are developed in my books Sack the Economists (Davies, 2013) and Economy, Society, Nature (Davies, 2019). 

Figure 2. Modelling debt as an overshoot and crash phenomenon

pastedGraphic_1.pdf

With no delay of feedback, the debt rises, exponentially at first, then smoothly levels off at the presumed carrying capacity. With a 2-year delay there is some overshoot, then quasi-periodic oscillating. With a 3.5-year delay there is a larger overshoot followed by a crash to very low levels of debt. The crash in the model is because debt is still being rapidly extinguished even after the level of debt has fallen back. It then takes a long time for the debt (and the economy that depends on it) to recover. 

This simple model seems to capture some of the essence of the market behaviour observed in Figure 1. It suggests that the core of the problem might be excessive optimism of traders and their resistance to warnings, combined with debt being too readily available. Clearly one could make more sophisticated models of such a process, but this simple model encourages further exploration of the main idea. 

A further encouragement is the solution with the 2-year delay, which yields behaviour reminiscent of the “business cycle”, too much money (and debt) alternating with not enough. The three kinds of behaviour illustrated in Figure 2 are obtained merely by changing one parameter, the delay. Thus in this sense the model has a generality extending beyond the immediate question addressed. 

This model is kept very simple in order to focus on the process of developing and using it, but you might think it is just too crude. It involves a single non-linear ordinary differential equation and a few plausible but debatable assumptions about parameters. The equation can readily be solved numerically. 

Yet consider a model of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8 by Eggertsson and Krugman (2012), the latter a pseudo-Nobel prize winner. They made two models, one for before and one for after a crash, with the difference between the models being effectively that the amount of available credit was presumed to be less in the second. Nothing in the model determined the amount of credit, it was imposed from the outside. Their equations of optimisation did require sophisticated, though old-fashioned, analytical methods to solve, but that says nothing about the usefulness of the models. 

Both models are equilibrium models. But if the “before” state of the market, with high prices, was an equilibrium state there would be no crash. Therefore the model must be missing the imbalance that drove the crash. It is therefore incapable of telling us why such a crash occurred. It cannot tell us anything about the dynamic process of boom and crash, the inflation and bursting of a debt bubble. It is not a useful model, it is a useless model, a dead end as far as understanding an observable economy is concerned. 

My simple model, on the other hand, can accommodate imbalances of the sort that must be involved in market crashes and the initial results are encouraging. It could be elaborated with more empirically-constrained input and, for example, a more explicit model of traders’ behaviour. In other words it has the potential to yield useful insight into a financial market crash. Steve Keen’s rather more elaborate models of finance are of the same general kind, so we have taken a small step in the direction of his instructive models (Keen, 2012). It may also turn out that this approach has limitations, when compared with more observations, and that other factors are important. That would still be a useful insight. 

Another virtue of my model is that it addresses a major and recurrent dysfunction of modern economies, their propensity for financial market crashes. The neoclassical tradition has been completely unable to address this rather fundamental issue, to the point that it was claimed no-one could have anticipated the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8, though of course many outside the mainstream did. 

Let us look at what went into the models of Figure 2. First was a subjective interpretation of the graph in Figure 1, that the rise and fall during 1987 was a distinct episode with potentially identifiable causes. Then there was a model of one aspect of human behaviour: that financial traders tend to be over-optimistic and tend to ignore warning signs until they are very strong. This behaviour was then rendered into a rather simplified mathematical description with some plausible choices of parameters. These are all assumptions on which the model is based. Then deductive logic was invoked to deduce the implications of these assumptions – in other words the equation was solved, numerically. Then the results (Figure 2) were compared with observations – those of Figure 1 and also, qualitatively, with knowledge of “the business cycle”. 

This is a scientific process in operation: non-rational perceptions or interpretations of events or patterns in observations, the formulation of a hypothesis, deduction of implications of the hypothesis and further comparison with observations. 

Notice also that taking this small step in understanding did not require a comprehensive model of human behaviour and the many ways we interact. We do not have to be paralysed by the immense complication of human societies. 

Nor does one episode need to be identical to another for potentially useful insight to be found. An economy is a historically-contingent system, but we can still gain some understanding. The field of history would not exist if resemblances did not exist. You do not lie in bed despairing that today will not be just like yesterday, nor trying to model the coming day in detail. Rather, you get up and muddle through the new day as best your considerable understanding allows. 

My analysis did not yield a prediction of the future of the stock market. The event analysed is in the past, immutable, as the processes that formed a rock are in the past, yet we can draw insight from an analysis of how it might have come to pass. The solution of the equations expressing the assumed model allows us to deduce the implications of the model’s assumptions. It is more general and more useful to talk about implications rather than predictions.

By dealing with observations we avoid worrying about what “reality”, if any, might lie behind our perceptions. Observations will always have limited accuracy and will always be incomplete, and we have to contend with those limitations, but the existence of some observations is not in doubt.

The assumptions on which our model is built matter, contrary to the thoroughly muddled assertions of Milton Friedman (1953/1983). In fact assumptions are everything. Eggertsson and Krugman assumed equilibrium and thus emasculated their model at the beginning, making it incapable of addressing the issue. Scientifically it is a useless model, even though professionally it presumably further enhanced the reputations and power of its authors within their misguided profession. 

The model behind Figure 2 would be called a macro-economic model, in conventional mainstream terms. It is legitimate to address aggregate properties in this way because a complex self-organising system, as a modern economy plausibly is, has emergent behaviour that is not inherent in the behaviour of the system’s components (the traders and the objects of their trade). The behaviour emerges from the interactions among the traders and cannot be deduced, for example, from the behaviour of one representative trader. The well-developed science of fluid dynamics, for example, proceeds on the basis of the emergent macro behaviour of fluids, not by modelling all the atoms within the fluid. 

It is possible to do useful micro-economic models, but they must involve modelling the interactions of large numbers of traders and extracting their collective effects. Yoshinori Shiozawa and his colleagues are developing such an approach (Shiozawa et al., 2019). Other agent-based models, some associated with the Santa Fe Institute, have been reviewed by Eric Beinhocker (2006). 

This exercise did not involve statistics. It did not require elaborate massaging of data to extract the object of interest. That object is obvious enough in the raw data. Thus we need not be paralysed by the knowledge that there are many factors and variables at play in any given situation. There is a place for statistical analysis, but understanding of modern, disequilibrium economies is still so limited it is not hard to find rather obvious phenomena worth analysing. There is much low-hanging fruit to be harvested by those willing to venture into the field of far-from-equilibrium systems. 

That of course is a telling observation about a field that has been so misdirected it has failed to make substantial progress on basic questions (financial crashes, inequality, oligopoly, capture of markets and governments, destruction of our planetary life-support system, for example) after 150 years or more. 

One might reflect on the wisdom of humans relative to rabbits. We understand that rabbits do not have the foresight we do, and so they proceed to eat out their food supplies. We, on the other hand, do have foresight, and we have wise elders who have been warning us for decades, yet we persist with exactly the same over-exploitation of our planet. I think the problem is that in large societies our collective communication, verbal and non-verbal, is too limited and distorted for our foresight to regulate our baser impulses. Traditional societies living in smaller groups with mutual eye contact fare better in this regard – otherwise we would not be here. Until we reclaim and wisely use our means of communication in large societies we will remain collectively greedy and stupid. 

If at this point you feel the urge to further analyse the type of approach I used in the example presented above, please, resist. Do not tell us about the epistological, ontomagestic, negativist, empyreanist foundations of what I just did, nor even about the sadly disturbed state of my psyche. Instead, get out of bed, come outside into the messy world and join us in muddling along. Look for an interesting aspect of the observable behaviour of an economy and its society and either find or invent a possible explanation for it. Then tell us about it. We can then start to learn more about how modern economies and societies work. 

References 

Beinhocker, E.D. (2006) The Origin of Wealth. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 

Davies, G. F. (1999) Dynamic Earth. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, G. (2013) Sack the Economists. Canberra, ACT, Australia: BWM Books. 

http://betternaturebooks.net.au/my-books/sack-the- economists/ 

Davies, G. (2019) Economy, Society, Nature: An introduction to the new systems-based, life-friendly economics. Bristol, UK: World Economics Association, www.worldeconomicsassociation.org.  

Eggertsson, G.B. and P. Krugman (2012) “Debt, Deleveraging, and the Liquidity Trap: A Fisher-Minsky-Koo Approach.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 127: 1469-1513  

Friedman, M. (1953/1984) “The methodology of positive economics” in B. Caldwell (ed) Appraisal and Criticism in Economics: A Book of Readings. Allen and Unwin: London. 

Keen, S. (2012) “A monetary Minsky model of the Great Moderation and the Great Recession.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 86: 221-235. 

Shiozawa, Y., M. Marioka, and K. Taniguchi (2019) Microfoundations of Evolutionary Economics. Springer.  

The post A modest proposal for generating useful analyses of economies first appeared on BetterNature Books.

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