News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on November 20, 2010 in News

Sean Carroll celebrates the fact that The Laws Underlying the Physics of Everyday Life are Completely Understood. Isn’t that incredible? Sean defends against some misunderstandings here.

The best word to use when playing hangman is “jazz.”

Why doesn’t foreign aid to Africa work? Counterpoint: No, it does work.

D.J. Groethe interviews Tom Clark about Skepticism and Free Will.

Scientists Propose One-Way Human Trip to Mars. However politically difficult that would be, I have no doubt there would be skilled volunteers for that kind of place in history.

Here is a complete list of nations that don’t use the metric system: USA, Liberia, Burma.

How Google Works.

650 people burst into Handel’s “Messiah” in the middle of Macy’s.

Lol. Somebody made a huge fucking map of Eliezer Yudkowsky Overcoming Bias/Less Wrong posts.

New Scientist issues a special report on the science of morality. The Good News: essays by leading experts like Joshua Knobe and Patricia Churchland. The Bad News: It’s New Scientist.

From The Non-Libertarian FAQ:

Isn’t statism a bigger problem than libertarianism? Yes. But anyone with their eyes open has realized by now that communism and totalitarianism are deeply flawed systems. There aren’t a lot of honest-to-goodness Stalinists running around… But the Internet [is] full of libertarians.

Also, I so identify with this article by Greta Christina: Why Being Single Can Be Great for You:

For most of those twelve solo years, I wasn’t just happily single. I was consciously and deliberately single. I wasn’t single for twelve years out of bad luck or bad vibes or bad dating skills. I was single because I chose to be single.

Previous post:

Next post:

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Taranu November 20, 2010 at 4:22 am

“The Bad News: It’s New Scientist”

Please do explain what is wrong with New Scientist.

  (Quote)

mojo.rhythm November 20, 2010 at 4:38 am

Taranu,

I think Luke dislikes them because of this, but I could be wrong.

I personally fucking love New Scientist. I have been subscribed to them for the past two years and I absolutely enjoy every issue I get. There is always something in there that piques my interest.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk November 20, 2010 at 5:40 am

Sean Carroll celebrates the fact that The Laws Underlying the Physics of Everyday Life are Completely Understood. Isn’t that incredible?

Yes, that is literally not credible. Magnetism completely understood? Ha ha ha ha ha.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk November 20, 2010 at 5:50 am
Luke Muehlhauser November 20, 2010 at 6:52 am

mojo.rhythm,

Yeah, and other sensationalist stuff not as egregious as that.

  (Quote)

anon November 20, 2010 at 10:21 am

Luke,

I have a few questions about the aid to Africa stuff:

1. Is that the consensus of experts? Do most agree that it is a bad idea to give aid?

2. Is that just about the way that nations give aid? Or does it include the aid that comes through charitable organizations?

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser November 20, 2010 at 10:40 am

Anon,

I don’t know.

  (Quote)

Scott November 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

More News: “Pope Says Condoms to Stop AIDS May Be Acceptable.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/21/world/europe/21pope.html?hp

  (Quote)

juhou November 20, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Anon,

About aid to Africa (and other countries) there seems to be a debate back and fourth but most experts that I’ve read agree that foreign aid in the current form is bad (bloating government, corruption, decreased entrepreneurship, decreased tax base, etc) , although in short-term it has benefits when economies are unstable (a bit like bail out packages). Foreing aid tends increase consumption and investments, which are good things. There is some information here: http://www.dambisamoyo.com/deadaid.html. You can also find peer-reviewed papers that support that view.

The same goes for private aid. That doesn’t however mean that all foreign aid is bad. If foreign aid and charity are given so that they encourage entrepreneurship and economic growth they are a good thing. Example of that kind of charity is http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/10/061013-nobel-peace.html

  (Quote)

anon November 20, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Thanks Juhou.

  (Quote)

Liam November 20, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Luke, the article on African Aid is heavily misleading to people who don’t already have a hefty understanding of developmental economics. I’ve been studying aid and development for several years now and I find the arguments against aid effectiveness to be appallingly lopsided and generally thrown around by people who aren’t experts in their field. Yes, there are many ways that aid could be more effective and there have been charities that have had very little impact but there have also been many charities that have made huge indents into global poverty and inequality. For a fairly extensive report on the inroads made so far the 2010 UN MDGs report is a useful starting place.

Moreover, there was a conference held recently at MIT on the effectiveness of micro-financing and the conclusions were that it is highly effective in the areas that it was intended to be effective.

Finally, because I know you are serious about living an ethical life, please consider the ramifications of posting such poorly informed links on this page in future. If you don’t understand developmental economics that’s ok: it’s a complex field of study. But try not to contribute to a culture of apathy about poverty, in which the consequences of not giving are devastating. This is no difference from the sexy scientists post. You have contributed to a culture where people fail to reach their ethical obligation to help the poor.

  (Quote)

Liam November 20, 2010 at 11:30 pm

To follow up: you can watch Moyo get ransacked here in a debate with Oxford economist Paul Collier.

His book The Bottom Billion is excellent as well.

  (Quote)

Luke Muehlhauser November 21, 2010 at 12:32 am

Liam,

As you may have noticed, there are many things I link to I don’t necessarily agree with.

That clarified, let me ask you a question since you’ve done some studying on the subject. My cursory look at the literature makes me suspect the following: Development aid is usually ineffective or counterproductive, though a few specific organizations produce significant positive results. But by far the most monetarily efficient way to improve the welfare of people in poor nations is to support their emigration to wealthy nations, where governments are less corrupt and infrastructure is already developed.

Does that sound about right?

  (Quote)

juhou November 21, 2010 at 1:35 am

That Moyo – Collier debate is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8hgCeN5EwA&feature=related

Liam thanks for the info. Can you provide some peer-reviewed papers to back that up?

  (Quote)

Liam November 21, 2010 at 2:43 am

Liam,As you may have noticed, there are many things I link to I don’t necessarily agree with.That clarified, let me ask you a question since you’ve done some studying on the subject. My cursory look at the literature makes me suspect the following: Development aid is usually ineffective or counterproductive, though a few specific organizations produce significant positive results. But by far the most monetarily efficient way to improve the welfare of people in poor nations is to support their emigration to wealthy nations, where governments are less corrupt and infrastructure is already developed.Does that sound about right?  

The question of migration comes up in the convo that Peter Singer and Tyler Cowen have on some blog channel (actually, I remember you posted the link here on time) and it is an interesting question. I’m not sure what answer Peter gives but I do remember that he wasn’t fantastic. in fact, I think he generally has a pretty poor grasp of the economic side of poverty and he didn’t do much research for his book as far as I can tell. He cites Jeff Sachs heavily and whilst Sachs is an excellent economist, and a world leader in his field, he certainly isn’t the only voice in the debate. Bill Easterly makes some very sound points against the Sachsian line in his book The White Man’s burden, which is worth checking out. in fact, he seems to have almost a fetish for criticizing Sachs as every second post on his blog seems to be about him: http://aidwatchers.com/

Two points about migration: firstly, and my articulation here may be sloppy because it’s late at night here in Australia, but a policy being monatarily efficient isn’t the only criterion that it should need to fulfill to be passable. It needs to be sustainable as well and politically viable. Questions of mass migration are as good as unworkable in most wealthy nations; they’ll accept a few but on the question of accepting millions of dirt poor individuals who are uneducated unskilled and speak no English is one that seems more like armchair philosophy and not real economics. Two examples: America has a serious border protection issue within it’s political agenda each election with candidates competing to have the strongest protection policy. Could you imagine the difficulty of running on a platform of massively increased migration? I couldn’t. Not impossible but so wildly implausible you wouldn’t give it a second thought; not when there are other very good options. Second case in point: my own country, Australia. We intercept about 2000 refugees each year on their way to our shores and instead of welcoming them we are the only nation in the world that locks them in a cell and literally refuses to recognize their basic rights. The fear of foreigners here is so great all the major parties run on an anti-refugee/largely anti-immigration platform. If we can’t accept 2000 a year fleeing war-torn nations I can’t see how we could accept millions from elsewhere.

So there are some serious political factors that make the migration solution a serious problem.

Secondly, migrating people away from poor nations would be economically stupid of us. There are many huge economic opportunities in poor nations that can be to our benefit as well as theirs. Evacuating a nation would make any investment in that part of the world more difficult in the future.

One upside for migration is that people who migrate often send back a huge amount of cash each yeah to their families and friends – about 280 billion dollars a year according to the World Bank. However, it is important to note that migrants from poor nations with a low level of education, english and skills can only really find work in unskilled areas – cleaning maids, hospitality jobs, driving taxis and similar jobs. The problem with this is that there simply aren’t enough of these jobs for the world’s poor. Keep in mind that there are roughly 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty not to mention about a billion more living just above that line. This means that unskilled migration hasn’t got a wide enough scope to deal with the issue.

So my criticism of the migration approach has been threefold. 1) politically impossible 2) has a narrow scope, numbers wise. 3) limits our opportunities for investment in the future.

A further clarification is also important. There are plenty of very good economists who are skeptical about the effectiveness of aid but the situation runs strong parallels to climate science (90% agreement that climate change is real, with a few skeptics here and there): the consensus is that aid is more effective than ineffective, with a few contrarians here and there calling for aid to be majorly rethought or substituted somehow. That being said I certainly appreciate the need for a serious discussion on this topic to happen in public but whilst all economists, like all scientists in their respective field, agree that we don’t have 100% of the answers, there are very few credible economists in the world who thinks it should be stopped. Also, in light of the knowledge that aid does work, albeit not 100% perfectly, calling for it to be stopped altogether verges on being absolutely murderous.

For the other commenter who asked for some peer-reviewed links I won’t look for the exact one (it’s late here and I’ve got better things to be doing) but there is a wealth of material that can be searched for here at the MIT poverty action lab – http://www.povertyactionlab.org/

It’s an amazing resource. Essentially the poverty version of google scholar with all the articles being written by knowledgeable people.

  (Quote)

Liam November 21, 2010 at 2:48 am

Cheers for including the youtube link, juhou. I must have forgot to put it in.

http://www.povertyactionlab.org/ is a fantastic source for the MIT studies. It has a database search-able very easily by category and subject. I won’t find the exact source for you because, as i mentioned in the above post, it’s late at night here and I need to be doing other things.

  (Quote)

juhou November 21, 2010 at 3:07 am

Liam,

Thanks again for the information and thanks for probably proving me wrong. That’s what I get for poking my head into a subject I only have second hand knowledge. I will look into those articles myself :)

  (Quote)

Liam November 21, 2010 at 3:41 am

Liam,
Thanks again for the information and thanks for probably proving me wrong. That’s what I get for poking my head into a subject I only have second hand knowledge. I will look into those articles myself :)  

Don’t think of yourself as being ‘wrong’, Juhou. Being skeptical about big claims is immensely important and if somebody demanded money from you then you are certainly justified in wanting some damn strong evidence!

Also, ongoing skepticism and investigation keeps the media-image of charities on their toes. I think everybody would agree that the Bono/Bob-Geldorf image of ‘save a child for 3 cents’ image of poverty is absolutely fraudulent and the media campaigning does need to be more up front about the way aid really does work. I guess this though is an ongoing problem in for the media anyway: everything has to be short, sharp, decisive and quotable or else it is no good for television.

Whilst aid, when spend well, is good, I think a much more effective way to reduce to make poverty history would be to supplement it with making war history as well. There seems to be very little point in helping poor nations, with aid or otherwise, if the US military or the Israeli military are just going to demolish their houses and bomb their water stations. The numerous civil wars across Africa have left some places in pieces. Ending poverty needs a combined attack; a balance between aid, peace-seeking and a non-interventionist foreign policy.

If you still find yourself skeptical, and I can’t expect everyone to agree with me, you can check out this link below for a list of the most effective charities to donate to. The list is compiled by the most meticulous researchers so you know that the ones they recommend really are excellent.

http://www.givewell.org/

  (Quote)

anon November 21, 2010 at 10:24 am

Thanks Luke, Juhou, and Liam.

I will study these links.

  (Quote)

goobahman November 21, 2010 at 5:53 pm

Thanks for that Anon. I for one appreciate your insight.

I’m surprised how many Australian’s frequent this blog.

Quick question, how do you go about your own charitable donations?
I recently had the privilige of selecting a charity for a hefty donation and I ended up giving to the Small Enterprise Foundation on Givewell in South Africa. Is this the right way to go about combating poverty?

  (Quote)

anon November 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Thanks for that Anon. I for one appreciate your insight.

Hi Goobahman,

I thank you mean *Liam* and not *anon*.

  (Quote)

anon November 21, 2010 at 6:39 pm

whoops. and by *thank* I mean *think*

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk November 22, 2010 at 6:21 am

Science still can’t explain the colour red
by Michael Posner

But the philosophers are refusing to go down without a good conceptual scrap. Mr. Hacker, for one, says it’s nonsense to attribute consciousness, knowledge and perception to mere physical processes in the brain. “One sees with one’s eyes and hears with one’s ears,” he insists, “but one is not conscious with one’s brain any more than one walks with one’s brain. The brain is not an organ of consciousness. … The brain has no cognitive powers at all. There is no such thing as a brain’s thinking, wanting, reasoning, believing or hypothesizing.”

Moron.

  (Quote)

Liam November 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Thanks for that Anon. I for one appreciate your insight.
I’m surprised how many Australian’s frequent this blog.
Quick question, how do you go about your own charitable donations?
I recently had the privilige of selecting a charity for a hefty donation and I ended up giving to the Small Enterprise Foundation on Givewell in South Africa. Is this the right way to go about combating poverty?  

I generally give to charities that I know can demonstrate their effectiveness. Givewell is a website that is very useful for that although even they conceded that their framework for evaluating charities isn’t always useful.

A couple of my favorite groups:

– World Vision: because if you sponsor a child you can hear back from them and so forth and check up on progress (transparency is the key to a good charity)
– Fred Hollows Foundation
– GOLD (Generation of leaders discovered): they are an NGO that trains young people to be leaders in their own comunities in South Africa and elsewhere. This is to lay the foundations for necessary social change i.e greater awareness of STDs, the dangers of substance abuse, how to farm and so forth. They have won numerous awards.
– Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund: they aren’t the most efficient group out there but their assistance is sorely needed. In my opinion you’d be hard presses to find a demographic more fated to extinction then the Palestinians.
- One thing that is more important to me than simply giving money is working toward long term social change. I have taken part in campaigns to lobby the government to not only increase it’s aid budget but also restructure the department to make it more efficient and refocus attention on the regions where Australian engineers, teachers, doctors etc can be most effective.

So, yes, checking u on the charity in question and doing some research is the best way to go about donating. If they can’t demonstrate that they work they really don’t deserve your money when your money could just as easily go somewhere that does.

Hope that helps.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk November 24, 2010 at 6:23 am

Lukeprog: RE your new web layout: at the bottom of the page, the “Previous entries” linked text in a white font on a light blue background is poor colour combination. I can barely see it.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk November 25, 2010 at 5:58 am

The December 2010 National Geographic has an article about archaeology of sites related to the reign of King David in the “Holy Land.” Check it out.

  (Quote)

Reginald Selkirk November 25, 2010 at 6:02 am

Found it on their web site:
David and Solomon

The highlight the controversy, and the religious agenda of many of the players, but one aspect they do not touch on: the possibility of fraud by those with an agenda, or those willing to cater to them.
Solomon relic a fake, museum concludes
December 2004

  (Quote)

Leave a Comment