Zero Sum
How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress. — Neils Bohr
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Posted Sep 16th, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

News and Links for Sep 12 through Sep 16:

Posted Sep 12th, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

News and Links for Sep 11 through Sep 12:

Posted Sep 10th, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

News and Links for September 9th through September 10th:

Posted Sep 8th, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

Thomas MalthusApropos the name of this blog, some comments from Jeffrey Sach in SciAm:

Are Malthus’s Predicted 1798 Food Shortages Coming True? (Extended version)


Indeed, when I trained in economics, Malthusian reasoning was a target of mockery, held up by my professors as an example of a naïve forecast gone wildly wrong. After all, since Malthus’s time, incomes per person averaged around the world have increased at least an order of magnitude according to economic historians, despite a population increase from around 800 million in 1798 to 6.7 billion today. Some economists have gone so far as to argue that high and rising populations have been a major cause of increased living standards, rather than an impediment. In that interpretation, the eightfold increase in population since 1798 has also raised the number of geniuses in similar proportion, and it is genius above all that propels global human advance. A large human population, so it is argued, is just what is needed to propel progress.

Yet the Malthusian specter is not truly banished—indeed far from it. Our increase in know-how has not only been about getting more outputs for the same inputs, but also about our ability to mine the Earth for more inputs. The first Industrial Revolution began with the use of fossil fuel, specifically coal, through Watt’s steam engine. Humanity harnessed geological deposits of ancient solar energy, stored as coal, oil, and gas, to do our modern bidding. We learned to dig deeper for minerals, fish the oceans with larger nets, divert rivers with greater dams and canals, appropriate more habitats of other species and cut down forests with more powerful land-clearing equipment. In countless ways, we have not gotten more for less but rather more for more, as we’ve converted rich stores of natural capital into high flows of current consumption. Much of what we call “income,” in the true sense of adding value from economic activity, is actually depletion instead, or the running down of natural capital.


Posted Sep 5th, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

Posted Sep 3rd, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

To begin at the beginning (the latest beginning), the issue of women’s innate abilities at doing mathematics or science was offered as a possible reason for their under-representation in tenured positions at top universities in these fields, by Larry Summers, economics advisor to President Clinton and erstwhile president of Harvard University, in a speech (which he presciently deemed “provocative”) at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Listing other areas of under-representation (example: white men in the NBA), Summers urges:

These are all phenomena in which one observes underrepresentation, and I think it’s important to try to think systematically and clinically about the reasons for underrepresentation.

With this in hand, he proceeds:
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Posted Aug 28th, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

File this under awesome generalisations:

Face-Off: East vs. West — Zelkowitz 2008 (820): 3 — ScienceNOW


The eye-tracker confirmed that Westerners tend to dart from the eyes to the mouth and back again. Conversely, the East Asian students fixated on central points in the face, which the researchers believe enables them to view all its information at once, they report today in PLoS ONE. Both groups scored about the same on the recognition and categorization tasks, showing their methods were equally effective in identifying faces, Caldara notes. “In this difference, there is still something common and universal.”

Richard Nisbett, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says the findings fit with other research on culture and visual perception. Speaking broadly, says Nisbett, people in East Asian cultures tend to prize collectivism and harmony above the individuality valued in Western cultures. These social values are so powerful, he says, that they may influence a trait biologists previously thought was hard-wired in our species.

Posted Aug 22nd, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

This post is the first in a series of ruminations that fall under the title offered (“Science and the public”).

An article in the New York Times brings up the fallout from recent resistance to vaccination:

Measles Cases Grow in Number, and Officials Blame Parents’ Fear of Autism –

More people had measles infections in the first seven months of this year than during any comparable period since 1996, and public health officials blamed growing numbers of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

Rather typically, the issue is immediately cast as a confrontation between two warring camps:

The language has changed, but the message is the same. Infectious disease prevention is to be feared. It is against the natural order of things. Instead of “vaccines are against God’s will”, it’s now “vaccines are against Nature’s will.” They’re “unnatural”, not “green”. In the old vernacular, interfering with God’s will could lead to “bad things”, like flood, famine, or other divine punishment. In the new language, it leads to “autism”.

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Posted Aug 22nd, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

Jon Stewart mocks the media’s “3am” cliche, as well as the verbal dance required from the US administration in criticising Russia’s action in Georgia.

Posted Aug 16th, 2008 by ravi    / Permalink /

With regard to the recent unsuccessful culmination of the WTO talks in Geneva, there are, as can be expected, alternate accounts on the causes and culprits. The International Herald Tribune quotes French opinion that blame lies with India and China:

France’s agriculture minister said Wednesday that “big emerging countries” were to blame for the collapse of World Trade Organization talks on opening up the global economy.

Meanwhile, the Hindu Business Line writes:

The United States is to be solely blamed for the flopped WTO mini-Ministerial talks as it was not ready to “sew up a deal” in view of the impending presidential elections and it is unlikely that the Doha Development Round will conclude before 201 1-12, a trade expert said today.

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