19 April 2010

Scientific Iliteracy on All Sides

Moving away from the normal foci of this blog, I've been struck over the last few weeks with how scientifically illiterate Americans in general are.  It's common for the left to accuse the right of being so, but there are plenty of examples of scientific illiteracy throughout the political spectrum.  For instance, in the last two weeks, there were these fine examples of complete ridiculousness:


And on the (normally, intelligently liberal) Diane Rehm show, News Roundup, this past Friday, Diane, her guests and a caller speculated that the recent earthquakes and volcanoes are caused by drilling, mining and climate change (there is some reason for believing that extreme climate change could cause crustal changes that could lead to earthquakes, but we're nowhere near the kind of warming yet that could trigger that kind of instability).

In this country, I suspect that much of the nonsense that is spewed by both the right and left is tied to the more general distrust that Americans have for authority in general.  But there is plenty of ridiculousness in supposedly educated Europe as well as around the world.  Global nonsense includes: outright conspiracy theories about genetically engineered crops, widespread claims that all ice packs will melt within thirty years or that they're not melting at all, evolutionary theory is a conspiracy to prop up or is able to prove there is no God, and on and on it goes.

Why is scientific illiteracy a problem?  Perhaps more to the point, we should ask why scientific literacy is important.  There are a number of arguments to present here, but a primary reason for caring about scientific literacy is economic; some of the top-paying fields are in health care and science (especially biotech.).  I would also argue that good citizenship requires some degree of scientific literacy; just think of how many times in the last twenty years there have been policy debates related to science.  And of course, we depend on good science for much of our daily life anymore (if you're reading this blog, then you're depending on scientific developments to do so!).  There are some valid reasons for distrust of scientists, but those should not be extended to distrust of all science.  Ultimately, good science relies not only on scientists maintaining integrity and ethics, but also requires a scientifically literate government and public to help keep them honest.  That relationship is difficult to maintain if one of the partners fails in their role.

16 April 2010

Why ... Thank You Mr. President

I'm sure you've seen or heard this lovely quip from the president:
'After his speech at the Kennedy Space Center today, President Obama headed to Miami for a pair of fundraisers expected to bring in $2.5 million for the DNC. Speaking at one of those events, the president made a Tax Day defense of his administration's policies and claimed to be "amused" by the tea party rallies occurring nationwide today. From a pool report:

'On tax day, he show cases the tax cuts in the stimulus plan, other tax break, and refusal to raise taxes on people making less than $250,000 a year. "So I've been amused in recent days by these people having rallies," he said to laughter. "I think they should be saying thank you." Big applause, and calls of "Thank you" from the crowd."''
OK - I'll bite.

Thank you Mr. President for ...

1. Single-handedly reviving the Republican brand
2. Moving Independents back to conservative roots faster than anyone in history
3. Guaranteeing the downfall of Sen. Reid and numerous others
4. Possibly enabling the downfall of the odious Sen.-don't call me ma'am-Boxer

Shall I continue? I have a whole list of thank-yous Mr. President.

14 April 2010

Oink, oink

Citizens Against Government Waste has released its annual Pig Book.  Rather depressing reading, although some of the earmarks are so strange they're funny.  The entire 2009 book may be found here.  Many of the projects for which the funds are appropriated are actually worth while; the problems are the means by which the funds were appropriated (often tacked on to wholly unrelated bills for instance, rather than subjecting them to normal budgetary debate), and the use of funds for specific projects where few jobs are generated and little use to the rest of the country can be found.  Rather than taking tax dollars from Florida and spending them on research into the uses of wool and wood in a few states (especially since these products have had developed uses for thousands of years), take fewer taxes from the states and allow them to utilize those funds as they see fit.  Or, if we just can't stand that, issue block grants to states based on population and economic factors to divvy up for state priorities.

Some of my favorites:
'$4,545,000 for wood utilization research in 10 states by 19 senators and 10 representatives. This research has cost taxpayers $95.3 million since 1985. One would think that after 24 years of research all the purposes for one of the world’s most basic construction materials would have been discovered.'

'$206,000 for wool research in three states (Montana, Texas, and Wyoming) by Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas). Since 1995, CAGW has uncovered 13 earmarks worth $3,417,453 for wool research, always in the same three states. While 47 states have figured out that wool can be best used to make a warm sweater, Montana, Texas, and Wyoming apparently are still trying to work out its practical utilizations.'
'$3,000,000 by Senate CJS Appropriations Subcommittee member Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) for the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks to help make data received from NASA satellite images more accessible to the public. Apparently the two senators have not heard of NASA TV. According to the NASA website, “The NASA TV Public and Educational channels are ‘free-to-air,’ meaning your cable or satellite service provider can carry them at no cost.” Interested viewers should contact their local cable or satellite service provider to get NASA TV, and ask the senators for a rebate of their share of that $3 million.'

13 April 2010

Shell Games

While awaiting FL-19's special election results, I thought I'd take a look at the WaMu testimony, and got distracted by this. The court-appointed examiner of the Lehman Brothers failure has reported back to the court that the investment house's directors did not breech their fiduciary responsibilities. Of greater interest however was this little gem:

'A 2,200-page report by a court-appointed examiner says executives of Lehman Brothers manipulated the now-defunct company's balance sheet, using a "materially misleading" accounting trick to temporarily remove $50 billion of troubled assets, The New York Times and The Washington Post report.

The examiner's report says that then-Lehman CEO Richard S. Fuld Jr. was "at least grossly negligent" and that the accounting firm Ernst & Young could be accused of professional malpractice.'

It turns out that Lehman used a shell to hide it's toxic assets, trading them for cash out of a small company it owned on the side. This maneuver allowed Lehman to improve the appearance of its books. WaMu's whining to Congress notwithstanding, it seems less and less certain that any of these firms deserved the rescues they received in 2008 & 2009.

FINAL UPDATES: Election Day Special on the Florida's Special Election

UPDATE 2: There will be no change in party affiliation for FL-19.  As of 8:56 PM, Ted Deutch has won by 64.75% to Lynch's 32.64% and McCormick's 2.55%.  A write-in candidate, Josue Larose obtained .06% of the total vote.  24,854 votes have been counted.  These numbers are not too likely to alter significantly since most precincts have reported in.  Where the national will move to in November remains a serious hobby of prognosticators.  One interesting facet of today's special election is that the voters get a 'try-out' period with the winner.  Because Wexler resigned mid-term, Deutch will serve until November, and must then win a regular election.  Depending on the mood of the electorate by that time, Lynch may get a second shot.  One potential indicator is the very low voter turnout, which was under 20% (strangely, the elections office considers this turnout to be high).

UPDATE 1: Voting has remained very light throughout the day, and may be exceeded in rate by the early and absentee voting.  Polls close at 7:00 PM.

Here in Florida's 19th Congressional District, we'll be electing a replacement for the unlamented Robert Wexler.  Ted Deutch is running for the Dems, Edward Lynch for the Republicans, and Jim McCormick is running as an independent under the People Before Party moniker.  McCormick may syphon off some votes from Lynch, which Deutch is no doubt counting on.  Despite a very limited budget and personal financial woes, the anger over Obamacare and the bailouts, in this reliably blue district, may propel Lynch to the forefront.  So far, voting appears relatively light throughout the county, and Lynch has the advantage of a healthy volunteer corps (driving throughout the county I've seen plenty of happy Lynch supporters and signs, but almost nothing for Deutch).  Lynch has also been relying on cheap and free media, and has a number of internet campaigns running under volunteer control.  Turning over the self-proclaimed 'fire-breathing liberal's' seat to a Republican would be quite a coup for conservatives, and a possible sign of a coming blood-bath in November.

12 April 2010

Down in the Weeds

Following yesterday's brief post, on declining poll numbers for the president, Congress and the Democratic Party, here's a more detailed analysis.  Today's RCP Average for the president is -0.7.

And for your general entertainment, here's a science-based approach to international negotiations.

11 April 2010

Down in Negative Territory

For the second time to date, and far more significantly than previously, President Obama's RCP average has dropped into negative territory.  Gallup, Rasmussen, Fox, and USA Today/Gallup are all negative.  The friendliest of the most recent polls to the President, The Marist (which typically has a high bias toward self-identified DNC responders) is down to it's lowest point; +3.  Today's RCP average is -1.2.  The best poll that is currently out of the average (their last poll closed 3/26) is the Washington Post poll (also significantly biased leftward) at +10.  This poll has been dropping more slowly than the others, but has also shown a significant decline over the last six months.  It will be interesting to see a snapshot in June, when the mid-cycle campaigns are in full swing.

The RCP average for Congressional Approval polling is also dismal (-56.5); Health Care is at +12 Oppose (52.4 oppose: 40.4 approve) and the Election 2010 polling is looking increasingly red.  It's going to be a long, hot summer.
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