Friday, January 12, 2007

Random the Fourth.

I love this brief snippet about eating cloned meat. Here's why: we start with this claim from the US FDA:
"Edible products from healthy clones that meet existing requirements for meat and milk in commerce pose no increased food consumption risk(s) relative to comparable products from sexually-derived [conventional] animals."
We then immediately afterwards get this:
However, agricultural groups have said that consumers are reluctant to buy products sourced from the offspring of cloned animals.
That is, the FDA claims that cloned meat and milk are no less safe than the currently-available versions. The supposed counter-point to this is that consumers are uneasy about eating and drinking them. So, the first claim is they are safe, and the second claim is they are unwanted. A better example of two people talking past each other I could not invent if I tried.



According to The Guardian here, Peter Jackson probably won't be making a movie based on The Hobbit because New Line Cinema, the studio that funded the 3 Rings movies, is embroiled in a legal dispute with him and are thus blacklisting him. Well, fine, that's their business. I'm not sure it's much of a tragedy, though. As King Kong aptly demonstrated, Jackson's forte is making big, big, big movies that cost lots of money but look really, really good. (That King Kong barely broke even domestically (see here) is probably not his fault. The cast was absurdly weak, and I can't recall a worse advertising campaign for a summer blockbuster.) The Hobbit, however, is a very small story. It doesn't have the scope or the sweeping vision of The Lord of the Rings; it's really more of a traditional (Grimm-styled) fairytale. So, another director is probably a wise move. Perhaps Alfonso Cuarón is available?



Apparently, not using technology is now a cultural statement. Who knew? I didn't have a cellphone until a few years ago, when I got one for work. I then bought my own because my wife and I work sufficiently far away from each other that we occasionally have to call in order to arrange where we're meeting for whatever. I don't have nor want a Blackberry, iPod, pager, Facebook or MySpace page, etc. I'm happy with my bare-bones academic webpage, my several years old PC, and this here blog. Although, I would like an mp3 player, because the portable CD player I have skips if you look at it harshly. Still: this now seems to make me a cultural iconoclast. Perhaps I should get T-shirts printed...?



Alberta's government is giving up on privatizing healthcare. Not because they necessarily think it's a bad idea, but because it doesn't address the real problems facing the healthcare system. And like that, Alberta goes from foaming-at-the-mouth crazy to insightful and prudent. I never thought I'd see the day.



I have no comment on this post at Crooked Timber dismantling some academic arguments against same-sex marriage, except to say that it's not good for a social "movement" that their brightest academic lights can't marshall any decent arguments for the view. (IDiots, take note.)



Now, I like Pharyngula a lot. PZ Myers is appropriately feisty, intellectually aggressive, and teaches me the kind of biology I wish I'd had in high school (for then I might have seen the point of taking it in undergrad). I have to say, though, he's got a really bad ear for ethical issues. Here, PZ takes on an undeniably tragic case of a US sailor's wife who was pregnant with an anencephalic child. The child would not have survived very long after birth, so the mother had an abortion. After some court battles, the agency that insures military families paid, even though the mother's life was not at stake. The Justice Department appealed this decision, after the procedure was performed, and won. So, they have to pay the money back.

PZ seems to be arguing a pretty standard consequentialist line: that this magnifies the pain and suffering of the family, that it doesn't produce noticeable good in the world, etc, hence it is "evil" (his term). Problematically, the "except to save the mother's life" line is a non-consequentialist reason: it's deontological. That is, it's not focused on the consequences of an action in order to judge whether it is right or wrong; instead, the criterion focuses on particular qualities of the case at hand in order to determine whether it is right or wrong. We can effectively argue against it by pointing out that "saving the mother's life" cases are an unacceptably narrow range of cases (relevantly for this instance, what about the state of the fetus? if it's non-viable, isn't abortion the best option? what if the mother would be severely injured by bringing the child to term, but not killed? etc.), but what we can't do, at the risk of talking past the opposition, is just start appealing to consequences as being the only morally relevant features.



Harry Frankfurt has been on The Daily Show before, promoting the book version of his old essay On Bullshit. Here is the clip of his second appearance, promoting his follow-up, On Truth. I'm starting to read some Frankfurt, vis-a-vis the issue of whether being able to do otherwise is a necessary condition for moral responsibility (he says it isn't, but I don't buy the argument). It's also just generally interesting to see a philosopher entirely out of his element, and yet apparently enjoying himself tremendously.



Another Scienceblogs link. Here, Dr. Charles criticizes John Edwards for opposing specialized healthcare courts. He's apparently been taking some flak from Daily Kos diarists over it. Frankly, I don't think Dr. Charles goes far enough. Not only are regular civil courts unable to handle medical cases, but they're generally unable to handle anything beyond judging the rhetorical merits of the opposing lawyer's presentations. That is, the judges, in my experience, seem to see their job to be evaluating the worth of a performance rather than weighing the evidence and reasoning. I've worked enough in medicolegal to have seen carefully-constructed, well-researched reports tossed aside by judges who decided, apparently on a whim (if no reason is given, what other conclusion can one draw?), that they were "not credible". This may in part be a function of judges' training as lawyers: if one is used to being evaluated on a certain basis, when one takes on the role of the evaluator, it's understandable that one would implement standards similar to those one was used to. But the fact that it's understandable doesn't justify it. This is particularly crucial in medical cases, where it really matters whether judges understand the evidence that the medical experts are presenting to them. If the issue is whether or not Mr. Smith has a permanent disability, judging on the basis of the character of the lawyers is obviously entirely inadequate.



Our beloved Prime Minister Stevie seems to think that two recent defections from the Liberals to his clan of Canada-hating misanthropes means that the Conservatives are "appealing". Mebbe. But it's at least as plausible that the real reason people are defecting from the Libs to the Cons (and, for that matter, the Cons to the Libs) is that even the members of the parties can't tell the difference.



This is just pure fun. Someone highly anal-retentive with a serious mad-on against the federal Conservatives has gone through and analyzed their policies to determine which are moving Canada closer to and further away from the US. While there's no discussion of methodology (which would have been fun in its own right), the analysis speaks for itself. By far, the Cons are trying to make Canada like the US.

While it's possible, as is suggested in the comments to that post, that the Cons are just being conservative and, since the US tends to be more conservative, this means that "being more like the US" is actually not the Cons' aim, I find that could only be plausible if the Cons were unaware that the US shares the same "values" or whatever that they do. That is, it's only true that the Cons are accidentally making Canada more like the US, while intending to make Canada more conservative, if they don't know about the connection between conservatism and the US. Since they presumably do know about the connection, it follows that, by intending to make Canada more conservative, they are also intending to make Canada more like the US.



Too funny. I blogged earlier about the vile things being said on air by a couple of hosts on an ABC Radio-owned station in the US. Here is a follow-up. Apparently, the hosts are trying to be "silenced", and their "free speech rights" are threatened, and they're targets of "frightening fringe-left groups". Etc. I don't think these people really know what the fuck they're talking about, and so are excused for saying stupid things on the grounds of colossal ignorance. However, on the off-chance that they are simply lying, here's what's wrong with what they're saying.

(1) Standardly, free speech rights in the Western world are interpreted as negative freedoms. That is, one is free from being constrained such that one cannot express one's views. However, the freedom is not considered as a positive freedom. That is, one is not entiteld to resources in order to promulgate one's views. Right or wrong, this is the way the right is interpreted. So, by asking these hosts be dismissed, no one is actually infringing on their free speech rights. They aren't being told to stop saying things they believe. They are, however, being told not to say these things in public places. That is, they are being deprived of a resource; they are not being subject to a constraint.

(2) It is, in their eyes, a "frightening fringe-left" claim to say that one should not promote vicious stereotypes of Muslims and use racial epithets on the public airwaves. (Note that: public airwaves. These people aren't talking in the privacy of their own homes; it's equivalent to sitting on a bus next to a loudmouthed homophobe.) Equal concern and respect is "frightening" and "fringe-left". I wonder, on this spectrum, what counts as "fringe-right"?

There's also some BSing about being "deprived of a livelihood", but that's just more obvious nonsense. I'm sure the hosts in question are perfectly capable of and qualified to serve hamburgers at McDonald's or even Burger King. So, how are they being deprived of a livelihood?



This is also funny. The US House have passed a measure that would require federally-managed negotiations with big pharma in order to bring down drug costs under Medicare. Looks like a good conservative thing, right, spend less government money? Well, not really:
Both the Congressional Budget Office and actuaries working for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services concluded it's unlikely government negotiating authority would produce significant savings.
So, okay. There looks to be a good basis for opposing the plan: it won't work the way it's supposed to. So, what opposition is actually voiced in the article?
"The change we're debating is the major debate about the future of health care in the coming decades," said Rep. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. "Do we believe government should make the decisions about your health or do we believe these decisions are so fundamentally personal they can only best be made by the individual?"
As I said: funny stuff. The real choice is between the government running interference for individuals and trying to get the drug prices down, and big pharmaceutical companies charging whatever the hell they want, regardless of what individuals can pay. The idea that this has anything to do with individuals making "personal" choices is so absurd it's almost farcical. To make matters worse, of course, it's a given in circles of sane people that healthcare decisions are paradigms of public decisions. Every health-related choice that a person makes has effects, often significant ones, on those around them. Thus, the way those decisions are made is of unquestionably public significance.

US "conservatives" are always good for a laugh, eh?



Here is a Globe and Mail article on how "new" immigrants to Canada may not be "integrating" in ways consistent with official multiculturalism policy. I've found the actual study (here) and will be reading it over the weekend. I hope to have a detailed critique of it available on Monday. My sense is that there's going to be some serious argumentative holes; while the data may be somewhat suggestive, the conclusions as described in the G&M are far too strong.

I'll also have something on this issue, namely college tuition, how it affects society in a broad sense, and what policies might be enacted in order to improve things.

4 comments:

undergroundman said...

Man, it's harder to comment when you do these huge posts. :p

"The change we're debating is the major debate about the future of health care in the coming decades," said Rep. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. "Do we believe government should make the decisions about your health or do we believe these decisions are so fundamentally personal they can only best be made by the individual?"

I don't understand his reasoning at all. :p

Standardly, free speech rights in the Western world are interpreted as negative freedoms. That is, one is free from being constrained such that one cannot express one's views. However, the freedom is not considered as a positive freedom. That is, one is not entiteld to resources in order to promulgate one's views.

By that reasoning you could take away my tongue and still retain my right to "free speech." I'm sorry, but resources are an integral part of who someone is. If the producers decide to can them, that's a different story, but I don't see how it could be done legally. Or what happens if the person happens to own the radio station? I wonder if there are any laws against misinformation in the United States - free speech might be restricted on the grounds that it is knowingly deceitful.

Not only are regular civil courts unable to handle medical cases, but they're generally unable to handle anything beyond judging the rhetorical merits of the opposing lawyer's presentations. That is, the judges, in my experience, seem to see their job to be evaluating the worth of a performance rather than weighing the evidence and reasoning.

Aren't these tried by a jury? Isn't that how civil trials often work?

It's also just generally interesting to see a philosopher entirely out of his element, and yet apparently enjoying himself tremendously.

He was pathetic. Where he could have been educational on what truth is to philosophers, instead he sat there dully. He made philosophers look bad.

Problematically, the "except to save the mother's life" line is a non-consequentialist reason: it's deontological.

Why can't we mix the two?

'd be a hypocrite if I only objected to creeping fascism by the right. According to this, Venezuela's Huge Chavez is trying to get (and succeeding in getting) the power to pass laws by decree.

I find that worrying as well. I posted about Venezuela because I was annoyed at the misinformation, but there are many legitimate criticisms that can be made against Chavez and his agenda. He is better than the corrupt plutocrats preceding him, but he's starting to off the deep end.

The issue isn't that consumers weren't protecting themselves; the issue is that these companies were holding data they had no need to hold on to. Hell, the TJX hack took data going back to 2003. Why the bloody hell does TJX need credit card info that's 4 years old?

This stuff really pisses me off. Lately I've been telling companies explicitly to get rid of my credit card information. Sometimes they outright tell me that they won't do it (Columbia House).

That is, pay is increased to reward good teachers, it is not taken away from bad teachers; and the standards of achievement are fairly clear and objective (and not based on student evaluations!).

Which brings up the question: what is the best standard? Correlating teachers with standardized test scores? (My university depends on student evaluations and it seems to work OK.)

Furthermore, since the schools are public, they tend to turn into political punching-bags, with teachers taking most of the shots.

Partially because the Teachers' Union is, in some ways, corrupt. It fights to link teacher pay to years worked only and makes it extremely difficult to fire shoddy teachers (which, believe it or not, are common).

I agree that we need to increase teacher pay; however, professors don't make a whole lot more than teachers.

Universities can't really afford to increase salaries, but they can offer the possibility of unbeatable job security.

I wonder why that is. Why are universities so strapped for money? And why does the tuition keep rising if professor pay is not rising with it?

ADHR said...

Man, it's harder to comment when you do these huge posts. :p

Yeah, I'm wondering about that. Should I do several posts instead?

By that reasoning you could take away my tongue and still retain my right to "free speech." I'm sorry, but resources are an integral part of who someone is. If the producers decide to can them, that's a different story, but I don't see how it could be done legally. Or what happens if the person happens to own the radio station? I wonder if there are any laws against misinformation in the United States - free speech might be restricted on the grounds that it is knowingly deceitful.

I know that resources matter. What I'm saying is that the legal right tends to be interpreted very narrowly. As long as you're not actually being prevented from speaking (as removing your tongue would do, but cancelling your radio show would not), then it's allowed.

AFAIK, in the US, you can only successfully sue for libel/slander if you have actually been damaged by the speech. If it's just false, you can't really do anything.

Aren't these tried by a jury? Isn't that how civil trials often work?

No. Most civil trials are heard by a judge. In the US system, you're only entitled to a jury trial for a civil matter if it involves a federal law. If it's a state matter, then it's basically just you and the judge.

In Canada, provincial courts work the same way. I'm not sure about Canadian federal courts.

Besides, a jury wouldn't help matters. They're even less likely to know what medical testimony amounts to than a judge.

He was pathetic. Where he could have been educational on what truth is to philosophers, instead he sat there dully. He made philosophers look bad.

Philosophers have zero public profile, so I think any appearance by one in a large public forum is automatically advantageous. He did come off a bit as an audience member rather than an active participant, but that may well be Jon's fault, too. He is -- as he admits -- a lousy interviewer, and he's not always able to engage his subjects.

By way of comparison, see Bertrand Russell in this clip. He's trying, but he's almost incoherent. And this was a guy known for his engagement as a public intellectual!

Problematically, the "except to save the mother's life" line is a non-consequentialist reason: it's deontological.

Why can't we mix the two?


We can. But, mixing the two gets complicated because you then need a selection principle. When do you favour one sort of reason over the other and why?

My original point, though, was that Myers was trying to say the rules were hypocritical, which was incorrect. He was applying consequentialist reasoning, while the rules are pretty clearly deontological in nature.

I find that worrying as well. I posted about Venezuela because I was annoyed at the misinformation, but there are many legitimate criticisms that can be made against Chavez and his agenda. He is better than the corrupt plutocrats preceding him, but he's starting to off the deep end.

You can say that about a lot of leaders, really. Mao, for example, and Castro. This is why checks and balances are so important. Chavez is -- or at least was -- probably quite sincere about improving the quality of life for the poorest people in Venezuela (and they are poorer than anything in Canada or the US), but he's getting worryingly power-hungry. His chumming around with Ahmadinejad is also disturbing.

This stuff really pisses me off. Lately I've been telling companies explicitly to get rid of my credit card information. Sometimes they outright tell me that they won't do it (Columbia House).

Credit card (i.e., just the number) isn't -so- bad, if only because you can get he card cancelled and reissued, with a new three-digit code on the signature line. The number without that would be almost useless. But, when they're holding debit card information (which can be used to get account information) as well as names, addresses, etc., it becomes very easy to use that data to commit identity theft.

Frankly, I think it's time legislators woke up and forced these companies to either purge the data or make better effors to protect it.

Which brings up the question: what is the best standard? Correlating teachers with standardized test scores? (My university depends on student evaluations and it seems to work OK.)

God no. Then you get the problem of teaching to the test, which is no longer education. No, I'd think the best system is independent evaluation by a panel of recognized experts in education. That is, judgement by peers who have the requisite knowledge and experience, but no personal stake in any outcome.

Student evaluations actually don't matter much in universities, I'm sorry to say. It's a bit of a smokescreen. For sessional hires, they may make a difference, but anyone who's an assistant professor or better is evaluated more on research and collegiality than anything else. If they have horrible fail rates and lousy retention in classes, then there'd be an issue; but, except for that limiting case, no one in admin really cares what student evaluations say.

My problem with them, in a nutshell, is there's no accountability. Students can -- and do -- say the most appalling shit, and there's no way to call them on the carpet for it.

Partially because the Teachers' Union is, in some ways, corrupt. It fights to link teacher pay to years worked only and makes it extremely difficult to fire shoddy teachers (which, believe it or not, are common).

That's not an instance of a corrupt union, but an effective one. Unions are supposed to protect their workers. It's employers who are supposed to provide the counter-balance and not give in to every crazy idea the union comes up with. It's not hard to find a compromise position here -- say, years worked provides some proportion of a raise (rewarding loyalty), but efficacy also counts (rewarding achievement). But if employers don't ask for it, why should the union care? It's not their job to do anything other than protect their members.

I agree that we need to increase teacher pay; however, professors don't make a whole lot more than teachers.

I'd bet most professors make less than most teachers. The difference, of course, is that professors can have guaranteed employment, which teachers never achieve.

I wonder why that is. Why are universities so strapped for money? And why does the tuition keep rising if professor pay is not rising with it?

Several reasons. In the US, healthcare costs keep climbing, so the university has to keep covering its employee health plans. Generally, operational costs are on the increase, such as cost of gas for university vehicles, natural gas for heating buildings, and electricity costs. There's also the need to provide more buildings to deal with rising enrollments, and to hire more faculty to teach them. (This is the source of the growing number of adjuncts in higher ed. Universities can't afford to hire more full-time faculty, but they need bodies in classes. So, they hire what are, in effect, temps.) Universities also employ more than just professors -- such as front-line administrative staff, custodial staff, plant ops, etc. -- all of whom also ask for pay increases regularly and all of whom have guaranteed benefits packages that need to be funded. Finally, universities also need to pay for attracting important conferences and the like.

And, let's not forget that government funding is dwindling (or, at least, not being increased to keep pace with inflation), so tuition has to go up to cover that discrepancy.

undergroundman said...

Wrote up a big long response a few days ago, and then accidentally closed the window. :p

Yeah, I'm wondering about that. Should I do several posts instead?

I like that better personally. Do what feels best though.

What I'm saying is that the legal right tends to be interpreted very narrowly. As long as you're not actually being prevented from speaking (as removing your tongue would do, but cancelling your radio show would not), then it's allowed.

Cancelling a radio show on what basis? As far as I've heard it's fairly difficult to cancel someone's radio show for political reasons, or politically.

No. Most civil trials are heard by a judge. In the US system, you're only entitled to a jury trial for a civil matter if it involves a federal law. If it's a state matter, then it's basically just you and the judge.

I quoted the 7th Amendment in response: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

I'm guessing you're right, though -- just seems unconstitutional to me.

Philosophers have zero public profile, so I think any appearance by one in a large public forum is automatically advantageous. He did come off a bit as an audience member rather than an active participant, but that may well be Jon's fault, too. He is -- as he admits -- a lousy interviewer, and he's not always able to engage his subjects.

I love Jon's interviewing style, and I think Jon wanted the man to speak up about the truth and what it is. Get into a little metaphysical bantering or something. Jon asked the man a basic question: "Why do we need to know more about truth?" And the guy couldn't respond. Jon had to push harder: "Is truth important?" Ridiculous. And then Jon mentioned objective truth. Lots of stuff to play with. So Harry started going into some sort of anthropology with "society can't survive without truth." Give me a fuckin' break. Societies have existed for eons without truth, and they will continue to do so.

Frankly, I think it's time legislators woke up and forced these companies to either purge the data or make better effors to protect it.

You would think so. Instead legislators are working to attack credit-card companies and the policies that people voluntarily enter into.

Then you get the problem of teaching to the test, which is no longer education.

Learning how to take the test well is underrated as an educational system IMO. I'd like to see science on it.

No, I'd think the best system is independent evaluation by a panel of recognized experts in education.

Have that panel watch? Or perhaps videotape the class in session and then have them review it? Or have the professor teach to a bunch of professors?

I'd bet most professors make less than most teachers. The difference, of course, is that professors can have guaranteed employment, which teachers never achieve.

Good point - but I doubt professors make less, and I'm pretty sure that teachers get pretty close to tenure after a few years.

You're right about university costs, I guess.

ADHR said...

Cancelling a radio show on what basis? As far as I've heard it's fairly difficult to cancel someone's radio show for political reasons, or politically.

Yeah, but certain kinds of speech open up a radio station to potential liability. If they're convinced that there's sufficient exposure involved that it's not worth the money they take in from advertisers and/or they aren't taking in enough money from advertisers, shows can and have been pulled.

I quoted the 7th Amendment in response: In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

I'm guessing you're right, though -- just seems unconstitutional to me.


I'm not sure it is. Note that the Amendment says "in any court of the United States". A state Supreme Court isn't, in a sense, a court of the United States -- it's a court of one particular state.

I love Jon's interviewing style, and I think Jon wanted the man to speak up about the truth and what it is. Get into a little metaphysical bantering or something. Jon asked the man a basic question: "Why do we need to know more about truth?" And the guy couldn't respond. Jon had to push harder: "Is truth important?" Ridiculous. And then Jon mentioned objective truth. Lots of stuff to play with. So Harry started going into some sort of anthropology with "society can't survive without truth." Give me a fuckin' break. Societies have existed for eons without truth, and they will continue to do so.

Frankfurt is not the best guy to respond to that sort of provocation, which is why I mentioned Jon is a bad interviewer. A good interviewer can adjust him or herself to the subject's style, rather than forcing the subject to adjust to the interviewer's style.

I think he's serious when he says that society can't survive without truth, though. You'd be hard-pressed to find a society that was actively and knowingly based on lies, and yet continued to exist.

You would think so. Instead legislators are working to attack credit-card companies and the policies that people voluntarily enter into.

Well, that's reasonable too, of course. The sense in which you "voluntarily" enter a CC agreement is a very weak one, as is the sense in which you "voluntarily" accept an EULA when you buy a piece of software. It's "voluntary" in that you could just not get one; it's not voluntary, however, in the sense that you could, in principle, get a CC or a piece of software under an agreement you found more appealing. (Although, come to think of it, that's probably not quite true any more in the case of software, although it still seems to be in the case of CCs.)

Learning how to take the test well is underrated as an educational system IMO. I'd like to see science on it.

Learning how to take tests well isn't quite the same thing. It's an important skill, I agree. However, "teaching to the test" means that any material which won't be tested explicitly is abandoned in favour of material which will be. That isn't education. Doing well on a test can't be the only educational goal worth pursuing.

Have that panel watch? Or perhaps videotape the class in session and then have them review it? Or have the professor teach to a bunch of professors?

Probably the median. The former and the latter create a serious observation bias. That wouldn't save the worst teachers, who couldn't even do a decent job when they're being watched, but the mediocre ones could sneak through.

Good point - but I doubt professors make less, and I'm pretty sure that teachers get pretty close to tenure after a few years.

I suppose it depend what you count as a "professor". I tend to count sessionals in that category, unless I'm explicitly making a distinction between sessionals and professors. Sessionals make horrible money -- it's not even funny how badly they're paid.

As far as teachers and seniority, it's still not quite tenure -- it just means that a lot of people have to go before you. Which seems to make sense: employees who have been in the system for a long time will, ceteris paribus, have greater experience and ability and, also, be less able to move into a new position.

You're right about university costs, I guess.

You guess? lol.