Sunday, January 24, 2010

American Politics

When I started this blog, the purpose was not to carp on either of the American political parties, since they are both really screwed up by the nature of politics in this country. I estimate that one of them is about 35% wrong and the other about 55% wrong on the issues, and not all in the same direction. In the blue to red scale, I'm on the red side of purple. In most of the world that would label me center-right, I guess. But really, that whole left-right or blue-red metaphor is an artificial paradigm fraught with mistaken assumptions.

First of all, it assumes that there are only two approaches to any problem. Second, it assumes that two (or more) political parties always would, should and could split evenly on which of those two (fictitious) alternatives should be used. Third, it assumes that, if the above two happened, that the clusters of positions created by such splits would form some sort of rational basis for governing a country. Which three assumptions are Bunk, Bunk, and Bunk.

The two major political parties in the United States are random aggregations of diverse interest groups, and each contains subgroups that barely tolerate each other. In fact, each party contains groups whose interests - economic, moral, political and other - are directly opposed to a large chunk of the positions taken by the party.

For instance, the highest interest of low-income people (minority or not) with children is that they be able to quickly move their children away from failing schools. However, the Democratic party, which otherwise represents the interests of the poor, also contains as a major group the Teacher's Unions. Thus, any effort to allow such school choice is viewed as a negative thing by the Democratic Party hierarchy.

One could point out similar issues within the Republican party, for instance regarding poor evangelical Christians - who vote Republican for moral reasons - and their economic best interests. The important thing is not which exact groups might be better served by a different party alignment, but just the fact that any two-party system will suffer one or more of the following problems - (a) the parties will be broad coalitions that don't represent anything in particular, (b) the parties will represent only a small selection of all possible paradigms, ignoring superior solutions and narrowing the range of acceptable viewpoints, and/or (c) the parties will be controlled by their more radical fringes, leading to less-than-centrist policies that are less than optimal for the country as a whole.

In the U.S. today, we suffer all three of the above, to varying degrees. I believe that these problems are inherent in a two-party system, with problem (a) and problem (b) maintaining a yo-yo of tension, and (C) occurring whenever (b) proceeds two far, thus leading to electoral defeat from the middle and a reversion to (a).

In future essays, I'll explain why the two-party system persists in the U.S., and some ideas about how to either proceed toward an effective multi-party system here or how to limit the toxicity of problems (b) and (c).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nature Admits the Holes...

An interesting pair of articles in Nature.

To me, there are some basic things that any scientist has to do to maintain trust in his conclusions.

  • Tell the truth.
  • Do not alter the data.
  • When you alter the data or "splice together" different data to make your data match the conclusions, mark the change prominently. Doing otherwise is known as "fraud".
  • Do not disparage or attempt to marginalize scientists who do not agree with your conclusions.
  • Do not mischaracterize the views of scientist who do not agree with your conclusions. Like, for instance, calling them a
    small coterie of individuals who deny humanity's influence on climate.

  • Do not attempt to prevent the publication of studies that disagree with you. If their study is wrong, scientists will demonstrate what mistakes were made and how. If their study is right, then preventing its publication is a crime against science, and probably a legal tort as well. Either way, the publication of varying viewpoints leads to advancement of truth and science.
  • Be honest about your conflicts of interest. Getting paid for being alarmist is just as seedy as getting paid for ignoring facts the other way.
  • When the data show you're wrong, admit it and shut up until you have thoroughly reevaluated your prior conclusions. And when you come back, have a different message.
  • When you are discussing science, leave out such irrelevant data such as your opinion about how some scientists may "feel" about having to do good science.
    McIntyre has doggedly attacked the proxy records, particularly the statistics used to analyse tree-ring data.
    Many scientists are tired of the criticisms [emphasis mine], and the IPCC concluded that it is "likely" that the second half of the twentieth century was the warmest 50-year period in the Northern Hemisphere during the past 1,300 years. But legitimate questions remain about paleoclimate proxies, according to the IPCC.

    I'm sure the intelligentsia and the Catholic Church in the 1600s were tired of criticisms of their terracentric world-view. That says nothing about the relative merits of the Copernican system, vis-a-vis the Ptolemaic system.

  • A magazine called "Nature" can be presumed to have a biased viewpoint, and that's fine. Bias has its place. But science as a whole has to be the sum of all the ways of looking at things. True science is based upon parallax.

    Biased censorship of a scientific viewpoint is just plain evil, probably illegal, and should lead to both civil and criminal penalties, especially if it forces honest scientists out of the field of climate research because they are afraid of being marginalized for speaking truth.

    hat tip, James Taranto of Opinion Journal Online.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Supreme Court Upholds Free Speech

    Libertarians should be drinking up about now. The Supreme Court, in this ruling, CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, have apparently swept away those torturous campaign finance restrictions that tried to keep corporations, unions and other organizations from financing commercials and other public debate.

    The First Amendment does not permit laws that force speakers to retain a campaign finance attorney, conduct demographic marketing re-search, or seek declaratory rulings before discussing the most salient political issues of our day.

    Personally, I'm cheering, but Congress will undoubtedly come back with another attempt to keep you from banding together and saying anything that might affect an incumbent.

    Honestly, just having Congress able to write laws that affect who can speak in what time and place has a chilling effect on our ability to discuss the issues, since it takes money, or a big group of people, to get that discussion going. I think that "Congress Shall Make No Law" should be taken more literally than they do.