Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Focus on the People, Not the Numbers

 

Conservatives and libertarians face a common problem: our principles. Once you catch the passion for liberty and understand how the freedom of billions of humans can coalesce to make a world undreamable by any individual person, it is increasingly difficult to take seriously complicated schemes of regulation and legislation that purport to know better than the market. But why is this really a problem?

I have long been searching for a way to reframe libertarian issues as human interest stories for two reasons: 1) that’s what they are; 2) that’s what people really care about and connect with. To that end, I have been thinking about Jim Pethoukoukis’s “Generation Katniss” post, which walks through exactly the problem i’ve been trying to sort out. I think a lot of the comments on that post missed the point. It is not that libertarian-conservatives need to change what they talk about, it is that we need to change how we talk about it.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Trust 2.0

 

shutterstock_225204676On Monday, I ordered lunch from the Japanese take-out I frequent. At the register, I realized that I’d forgotten my wallet back at my desk. Sheepishly, I offered to run back and get it, but the owner handed me my food, smiled, and told me not to worry, just pay next time I come in. This was smart on a number of levels: it was good customer service, and — given how often I come in — he was all-but-guaranteed payment within 24 hours (unwilling to to jeopardize my future access to chicken katsu or udon soup over a measly eight bucks, I was back within the hour). But he was only able to do this because he knew me well enough to trust me.

Trust, however, often takes some work to build and can be difficult between strangers (though our ability to so at all is among the things that distinguish humans from the rest of nature). Remember when eBay started, and the idea of sending some random schmuck your money in exchange for a promise that they’d send you an item — as-described and in a timely manner! — seemed crazy? Turns out that worked rather well, with those who attempted to game the system getting punished for it.

More

Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Climate Wars Heat-up Again

 

j9CmoiHJ_400x400The American Physical Society (APS) — of which I am a member — is looking to revise its Climate Change Statement. Many scientific societies have decided to issue statements about global warming/climate change. Don’t ask me why they feel the need to do this.

The last statement issued by the APS in 2007 was such a disaster that they had to backpedal in 2010 with a convoluted explanation of why it didn’t say what everyone thought it said. This time around, they convened a panel of experts headed up by Steve Koonin, formerly of Caltech and recently an undersecretary in the Dept. of Energy in the Obama administration. Koonin held a workshop last year to try work out the text of the new statement. Subsequently, Koonin quit the panel responsible for the new statement (Panel on Public Affairs – POPA) and published the opinion piece “Climate Science Is Not Settled” in the Wall Street Journal. Judging by that op-ed, things didn’t work out as he hoped.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Saturday Night Science: Rockets and People. Vol. 4

 

“Rockets and People, Vol. 4” by Boris E. ChertokThis is the final book of the author’s four-volume autobiographical history of the Soviet missile and space program. I have discussed the four volumes in four Saturday Night Science posts, one a month; here are the first, second, and third installments.

Boris Chertok was a survivor, living through the Bolshevik revolution, the Russian civil war, Stalin’s purges of the 1930s, World War II, all of the postwar conflict between chief designers and their bureaux and rival politicians, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Born in Poland in 1912, he died in 2011 in Moscow. As he says in this volume, “I was born in the Russian Empire, grew up in Soviet Russia, achieved a great deal in the Soviet Union, and continue to work in Russia.” After retiring from the RKK Energia organisation in 1992 at the age of 80, he wrote this work between 1994 and 1999. Originally published in Russian in 1999, this annotated English translation was prepared by the NASA History Office under the direction of Asif A. Siddiqi, author of Challenge to Apollo, the definitive Western history of the Soviet space program.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Leave the Environment to the States

 

shutterstock_124385440Unless you were hiding under a rock this Earth Day, you probably heard the familiar tale of how America (ca. 1970) was on the brink of turning into one vast toxic waste dump until the federal government swooped in to save us all with the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and so on.

According to the conventional history, the Clean Water Act rescued America from the brink of environmental apocalypse. Before the federal government acted, according the New York Times, “the nation’s waters were in terrible shape … Lake Erie on its deathbed, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River bursting into flames.” In reality, the states were actively working to protect the environment well before the federal government got involved. By 1966 — six years before the federal Clean Water Act — every state had enacted water pollution legislation and had empowered one or more state agencies to enforce environmental standards.

More

Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. 13 Most Ridiculous Predictions Made on Earth Day, 1970

 

shutterstock_115509832Today is Earth Day — an annual event first launched on April 22, 1970. The inaugural festivities (organized in part by then hippie and now convicted murderer Ira Einhorn) predicted death, destruction and disease unless we did exactly as progressives commanded. Sound familiar? Behold the coming apocalypse, as predicted on and around Earth Day, 1970:

  1. “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” — Harvard biologist George Wald
  2. “We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.” — Washington University biologist Barry Commoner
  3. “Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”New York Times editorial
  4. “Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” — Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich
  5. “Most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born… [By 1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.” — Paul Ehrlich
  6. “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” — Denis Hayes, Chief organizer for Earth Day
  7. “Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.” — North Texas State University professor Peter Gunter
  8. “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” — Life magazine
  9. “At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
  10. “Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.” — Paul Ehrlich
  11. “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate… that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’” — Ecologist Kenneth Watt
  12. “[One] theory assumes that the earth’s cloud cover will continue to thicken as more dust, fumes, and water vapor are belched into the atmosphere by industrial smokestacks and jet planes. Screened from the sun’s heat, the planet will cool, the water vapor will fall and freeze, and a new Ice Age will be born.”Newsweek magazine
  13. “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.” — Kenneth Watt

A version of this article was posted last year.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Taking The Chance Out of Insurance

 

shutterstock_151145456People buy insurance — well, used to, at any rate — to mitigate the costs and impact of unpredictable and expensive future events, and to share the risk of being that one-in-a-million unlucky person. Sure, paying monthly premiums is no fun, but it beats getting an unexpected $200,000 bill for life-sustaining surgery.

Of course, insurance is not just a way to pre-pay for services: insurers are smart and — entirely appropriately — try to hedge their bets by estimating the likelihood that they’ll have to pay out and charging appropriately. This requires them to get information about their customers, such as their driving habits, age, family history, educational attainment, credit scores, and whether (and how much) they drink and/or smoke. At least in theory, this allows insurers to charge high-risk people a steeper rate, while offering low-risk clients more competitive prices. And while the predictive quality of this information isn’t good enough to say much about any given individual, it’s more than adequate to work in the aggregate.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Libertarian Warmist Brigade

 

shutterstock_170221427Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Professor Jonathan Adler, a scholar with “strong libertarian leanings” urges conservatives to accept man-made global warming, even though it is not “ideologically convenient.” Although I doubt whether his embrace of anthropogenic global warming (AGM) is all that inconvenient — a surefire way for any conservative to gain mainstream credibility is to take up some liberal cause, and lately that means either climate change or same-sex marriage — Adler does, I think, make two important points: 1) one’s ideology should not influence one’s conclusion about climate change (or lack thereof), and; 2) belief in man-made global warming does not necessarily mean that you endorse loony left solutions to climate change.

Fair enough, but Adler himself does not summon any evidence in favor of human-caused warming. Instead he cites an article in Reason by libertarian science writer Ronald Bailey, who makes the case for AGM. But none of Bailey’s evidence proves any link between human activity and climate change. Indeed, I don’t think he even presents evidence of a long-term warming trend: he cites no data earlier than the 1950s, and much of his data is from the last couple decades — surely a mere blip in climate terms. Bailey concedes that scientists can only speculate as to the reason for the 17-year hiatus in global warming, and he declares that the growing extent of Antarctic sea ice is “a climate change conundrum.” Other than that, it’s a slam dunk case for AGM.

More

Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. The Fatal Conceit of the FCC

 

Reason ran an article today about the ongoing Title II-based regulation of the Internet by the FCC. If you haven’t followed the issue, the FCC voted in February to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, a move which puts high technology companies on par with Ma Bell, circa 1950. Among other things, this accession to power grants the FCC the ability to regulate rates and the so-called “paid prioritization” of bandwidth.

The authors of the Reason article note the strange tension in allowing the FCC to solve a problem that, apparently, was founded on anti-competition grounds:

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. A Welcome Extinction

 

imageAmerica’s 39th president doesn’t not come in for much praise here on Ricochet but the excellent — and nearly complete — work his foundation has been doing to eradicate the guinea worm in Africa deserves some attention. I dare say, the world owes Jimmy Carter a round of applause.

The guinea worm is a nasty piece of work. Like many other parasites, it infects different species at different stages of its lifecycle, culminating in humans in its adult stage. I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say that it emerges from a blister in leg or foot and the only thing to do is to pull the cursed thing — all three feet (~90 cm) of it — out of the skin inch-by-inch, lest it break and become infected inside someone’s leg or foot. Washing the wound in water apparently eases the pain, but is also exactly what the worm wants, as it allows it to release its back eggs into the water supply and start the process over.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Saturday Night Science: Rockets and People, Vol. 3

 

“Rockets and People. Vol. 3” by Boris E. ChertokThis is the third book of the author’s four-volume autobiographical history of the Soviet missile and space program. I will discuss the four volumes in four Saturday Night Science posts, one a month; here are the first and second installments.

Boris Chertok was a survivor, living through the Bolshevik revolution, the Russian civil war, Stalin’s purges of the 1930s, World War II, all of the postwar conflict between chief designers and their bureaux and rival politicians, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Born in Poland in 1912, he died in 2011 in Moscow. After retiring from the RKK Energia organisation in 1992 at the age of 80, he wrote this work between 1994 and 1999. Originally published in Russian in 1999, this annotated English translation was prepared by the NASA History Office under the direction of Asif A. Siddiqi, author of Challenge to Apollo, the definitive Western history of the Soviet space program.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Climate Change Apocalypse

 

You can’t make this stuff up. Hillary’s revelation that during her tenure as Secretary of State she ran the department as though it were an appendage of the Clinton Foundation; Republicans doing their best impression of a Common Core civics lesson to instruct the Iranian leader, when their letter should have been addressed to America’s leader; Democrats, at least many of their multicultural, morally relativistic, blame-America-first acolytes of Jeremiah Wright’s “G. D. America” diatribe, accusing Republicans of treason; and current Secretary of State, John Kerry, trying to get a deal with the Iranians to change their nuclear program timetable from apocalypse now to apocalypse later; the list goes on. The real question is, which among these events should be considered the single most important crisis facing this generation of decision makers?

The answer is, none of the above. In fact, the correct answer is not found on this list, but rather in a speech made by Secretary Kerry to the Atlantic Council on March 12, in between executive denunciations of the leader of our most important ally in the region and negotiations with the world’s most nefarious supporter of terrorism. It’s climate change; specifically, the 97-percent-of-scientists-agree variety of climate change. Indeed, in his words, if we (the world, but mostly the American government) do nothing, “future generations will judge our effort, not just as a policy failure, but as a collective, moral failure of historic consequence. And they will want to know how world leaders could possibly have been so blind, or so ignorant, or so ideological, or so dysfunctional, and, frankly, so stubborn that we failed to act on knowledge that was confirmed by so many studies over such a long period of time and documented by so much evidence.”

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Do You Even Science, Bro?

 

As religious belief loses steam in the western world, people must look elsewhere for ways to flex their moral superiority muscles. After all, without a core belief to espouse, you look rather silly while standing on a soap box. Sure, your primary reasons for occupying the pedestal are to feel good about yourself while simultaneously letting those around you know how awesome you are, but pretext can be important for one’s self-image.

An unfortunate side effect of this impulse has been the politicization of the sciences. Rather than treating human knowledge as incomplete and ever evolving, many have chosen to treat scientists as a priestly cast, from which all decisions in life should be primarily informed. Many scientists balk at this role, while others embrace it. The Union of Concerned Scientists wants to know if you’ve got Science, and they provide a handy quiz in order to be sure. As a fun exercise, I thought we might take this as a group.

More

Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Treating Traumatic Brain Injury — Telling a Mistold Tale

 

shutterstock_167475890In the last few weeks, I have been immersed not in an untold story but a mistold one. So far as I can see, the mistelling has nothing to do with politics, but here is what it is.

War is hell. It is also a powerful catalyst for medical advances: penicillin in World War II; techniques for stabilizing the wounded and rapidly moving them to hospitals during the Vietnam War; and, as it turns out, treating Traumatic Brain Injury in the current wars.

More