Archive for January, 2009

Stats

January 23, 2009

Blog-stats

Somehow, I got a 27-hit day following a 21-hit day, twice! 27 hits is a very good day on my blog, indeed. My all time high is 53 hits, which happened shortly after I started the blog. January, however, is already the all time high month already, with a week to go still. Curiously enough, it’s the Who’s Who post which generates a lot of the traffic.

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Obama

January 22, 2009

KAL Obama Cartoon

The KAL cartoon in this week’s issue of The Economist suggests that Obama will be torn apart by all the problems that he’s facing. He is facing a lot of problems; the economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war in Gaza, the environmental crisis, the energy crisis, etc. What The Economist does not realize, it seems, is that reform, political change, and new regulations are much easier to execute in times of crisis. In ‘normal’ times, people are usually satisfied and (satisfied) people has a tendency to resist change. In critical times, however, more people are dissatisfied, more people see the need for change, and people are more willing to endure the pain that often accompany big changes.

All the problems may thus represent a great opportunity for Obama. He’ll probably be able to end one of the two big wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) in a reasonable fashion. If he’s able and lucky, he’ll get the U.S. onto a track towards a more sustainable energy system. New regulations in the banking sector may be necessary. The U.S. car makers need a new direction. There is so much to do. This is now. This is it. A grand moment (perhaps). Obama’s term in the White House can be a historic turning point for the American nation.

And, by the way, how bad can he really do? What can he do to make it very much worse? It’s like an inverse Wirkola.

Believe it or not…

January 21, 2009

Today, I’ll speak to the macro-group at our department! Hopefully, I’ll avoid any disasters. The announcement:

This is to remind you of the Macro Workshop today at 12:15 in the 4th floor meeting room:

 

Sturla Kvamsdal will give a guest appearance and talk about:

Risk of Rare Events: A Kalman Filter for Irregularly Spaced Count Data

 

 

The workshop slots are listed at

http://www.nhh.no/Default.aspx?ID=927

Joe Romm on Rhetoric & the Climate

January 18, 2009

Even though he has showed a negative attitued towards economists, Joe Romm has a lot of interesting posts on his blog, Climate Progess. Today, I stumbled over some posts on rhetoric and how the typical scientists lack of training in, and command of, rhetoric favors climate change deniers.

The first post, Why scientists aren’t more persuasive, Joe explains some of the basic features of rhetoric and then moves on to discuss how the way of most scientists inhibit them in communicating efficiently with the public:

Most scientists do not like to repeat themselves because it implies that they aren’t sure of what they are saying. Scientists like to focus on the things that they don’t know, since that is the cutting edge of scientific research. So they don’t keep repeating the things that they do know, which is one reason the public and the media often don’t hear from scientists about the strong areas of agreement on global warming.

He also mentions an article written by Jared Diamond called “Scientists who do communicate effectively with the public often find their colleagues responding with scorn, and even punishing them in ways that affect their careers.” This reminded me of an astronomer that has received a lot of attention here in Norway over the years. He has contributed to bring astronomy and, more generally, physics to the public attention. Apparently, he wasn’t very popular among his colleagues and in the end they kicked him out of the University. (The story is told here, in Norwegian.)

In the second post, Joe discusses why a ‘smart talker’ never win a debate against a(n) ‘(apparently) straight talker.’ The obvious is to talk so your listeners understand you. The not-so-obvious is to use narrative tricks to get attention and sympathy from your listeners. Joe demonstrates a few such rhetorical tricks from an inpressive range of sources; from the ancient Greeks to the president election debates in the U.S.

I do realize the importance of knowing rhetoric, not only to win discussions, but also as a means towards producing good science. I try to read some rhetoric along my studies into resource economics; rhetoric often ends up in the background, however.

Who’s Who (ha ha)

January 15, 2009

From the inbox:

Dear DEAR DR. KVAMSDAL,

It is my pleasure to inform you that you are being considered for inclusion in the upcoming 2010 Edition of Who’s Who in the World, which is scheduled for publication in November 2009.

From the publisher of Who’s Who in America since 1899, Who’s Who in the World is relied upon by business leaders, journalists, academics, and other professionals for its accuracy and currency of information. Distributed globally, it is found in the collections of many of the world’s leading libraries and corporations.

As the Marquis Who’s Who editors begin assembling the 2010 Edition of this historic publication, the original Who’s Who in the World continues to be recognized internationally as the premier biographical data source of notable living individuals from every significant field of endeavor.

To be considered for inclusion as a biographee in this prestigious publication, you need only provide the requested information by completing the Biographical Data Form by February 23, 2009.

The information you provide will be evaluated according to the selection standards Marquis Who’s Who has developed over 110 years as the world’s premier biographical publisher. If you are selected for inclusion in the new 2010 edition, we will contact you prior to the book’s publication in November.

Inclusion in Who’s Who in the World offers…

  • More than just a personal achievement; being honored in a Marquis Who’s Who publication offers prospective business contacts an authoritative, full representation of your credentials and accomplishments.
  • A historical archive of your achievements, recorded for generations to refer to time and again.
  • Exclusive offers that are available only to members of the Marquis Who’s Who family.

I congratulate you on the achievements that have brought your name to the attention of our editorial committee. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Fred Marks
Senior Managing Director
Editorial and Who’s Who Selection Committee

Yeah, right.

What is Science?

January 15, 2009

Despite my earlier efforts, the strange usage of ‘science’ in the English language still obstructs the discussion over on Climate Progress. John McCormick writes

Here is a definition of the word ‘science’

“1. the systematic observation of natural events and conditions in order to discover facts about them and to formulate laws and principles based on these facts. 2. the organized body of knowledge that is derived from such observations and that can be verified or tested by further investigation. 3. any specific branch of this general body of knowledge, such as biology, physics, geology, or astronomy.”

Academic Press Dictionary of Science & Technology […]

Economics does nto [sic] fit the definition of science, in my opinion. So, scientific norms do not apply [when it comes to economics.]

McCloskey tracks the current use of ‘science’ back to 1867 (p. 20 in ‘The Rhetoric of Econmics,’ 2nd ed.). Earlier ‘science’ meant ‘studies,’  in line with its counterpart in other Indo-European languages. The weird thing is that today,  its counterpart in most languages hasn’t really changed meaning; it means ‘systematic inquiry’ and is not explicitly chained to ‘natural events.’ It is thus used to describe, e.g., philosphy and studies of poetry and language, as well as physics and chemistry. It is thus absurd that economics is a science in other languages, but not in English. What are we supposed to make of this? I let McCloskey explain (p. 21).

The point is that the foreigners have gotten it right. […] “Economics is a science” should not be the fighting words they are in English. The fighting lacks point because, as our friends across the water could have told us, nothing important depends on its outcome. Economics in particular is merely a disciplined inquiry into the market for rice or the scarcity of love. Economics is a collection of literary forms, some of them expressed in mathematics, not a Science. Indeed, science is a collection of literary forms, not a Science. And literary forms are scientific. […] The idea that science is a way of talking, not a separate realm of Truth, has become common among students of science since Thomas Kuhn.[*]

So, what’s important is that economics is scientific. Economics might not be a science in the U.S., but it is certainly scientific and scientific norms do apply.

* Thomas Kuhn (1922 – 1996) was maybe the most influental philosopher of science in the twentieth century. Anyone slightly interested in science, philosophy or generally should read his book ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.’

Bushisms

January 15, 2009

President George W. Bush has made himself a reputation for saying strange things. Sometimes obviously wrong, sometimes illogical, sometimes completely meaningless, but always amusing. These strange quotes even got a name; Bushisms. Jacob Weisberg has collecte more than 500 hundred strange quotes from the president’s mouth, and in this article he lists his favorites.

Much can be said about President W (and much is said already, I’m sure). He has one positive feature rare in leaders, however; he’s able to laugh of himself. “Now ladies and gentlemen, you have to admit that in my sentences I go where no man has gone before.”

Some of my favorites among Weisberg’s favorites:

Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

And there is distrust in Washington. I am surprised, frankly, at the amount of distrust that exists in this town. And I’m sorry it’s the case, and I’ll work hard to try to elevate it.

We’ll let our friends be the peacekeepers and the great country called America will be the pacemakers.

President George W. Bush

Economics IS a Science!

January 14, 2009

In the comment section to Joe Romm’s third post on the evil of economists a very interesting comment surfaced. (My previous post links to Romm’s earlier attacks and some responses.) It is signed by ‘Asteroid Miner’ (comment no. 7):

Economists think that they are scientists. They are not. Science deals with NATURE, not man-made things like markets and money. Science requires and is based on public and replicable experiments. Computer simulations don’t count. Social sciences are suspect, but not as bad as economics. SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENTS ARE NOT POSSIBLE IN ECONOMICS.

Economics presupposes the existence of a stable civilization and the invention of money. A stable civilization with money requires creatures that are at least marginally rational and intelligent and slightly knowledgeable. A stable civilization also requires an adequate food supply. The collapse of agriculture inevitably leads to the collapse of civilization and the collapse of money and economics. Economics is unable to go outside of its founding presuppositions. Global warming climatology MUST concern itself with the collapse of civilization and the possible extinction of the supposedly rational intelligent knowledgeable creatures. Climate change is therefore impossible for economists to imagine AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN ECONOMISTS.

Thus the problem of economists who speak on the subject of global warming. Being economists, they assume the impossible, which is that agriculture will not collapse, civilization will not collapse and Homo Sapiens will not go extinct. Being economists, they are unable to imagine anything outside of the basic presuppositions of economics. They have made those assumptions implicitly since long before their careers began. They cannot do otherwise. They are money oriented. It is a basic part of their personalities. They cannot change by themselves.

Our project, therefore, is to make economists quit being economists prior to the collapse of civilization. It is only by taking them outside of their economic world view that they can be shown how to imagine another world, a world without economics. We have to somehow show them the limitations of the boundaries of their world. We have to shock them into the realization that their world is a very small subset of reality.

My reply:

Asteroid: The English ’science’ has, since the late nineteenth century, been used in a new, weird, sense. Earlier, it meant ’studies.’ It’s counterpart in German (wissenschaft), French (science), and all other Indo-European languages mean ’systematic inquiry’ rather than something that deals with nature. Why the English term went off-track, I don’t know, but statements like ‘economics is not a science’ looks very weird to me (a foreigner). […]

What I see as the misuse of ‘science’ in English has irritated me for a while (and is related to The English Problem). It was then heartening to read Deirdre McCloskey‘s ‘The Rhetoric of Economics.’ On page 20 (second edition) and onwards she discusses and compares the use of ‘science’ to its counterparts in ‘all Indo-European languages.’ She also quotes Lord Kelvin, who in 1883 obiously helped make ‘science’ absurd:

When you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind […] It may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in you thoughts advanced to the stage of science.

I conclude that economics is a science after all, only not in English.

Do economists help fight climate change?

January 12, 2009

This post (from Joseph Romm) on Climate Progress asks what economists brings to the table when it comes to fight climate change (in a rather rude way, I must say). I think the entire post is ‘under the belt’ with a lot of claims that are not justified. Romm touches on both the green jobs debate (more here) and the use of cost-benefit analysis when it comes to climate issues. Anyway, Joseph Romm’s post has ignited debate over on Environmental Economics:

Joseph Romm is not done yet, however; Voodoo economists, Part 2 (and more is coming our way). John Whitehead has no comment.

I don’t know if Joseph Romm is drawing himself, but he lets a very funny cartoon acompany his initial post; I just had to include it myself:

Anti-econ

UPDATE: More comments to Mr. Romm:

Hattip: Env-econ

Academic families

January 9, 2009

The quote below is from this post on the Environmental Economics blog. The post is written by John Whitehead and even though it is written in a humoristic tone, it does illustrate a little bit of how life often is in academia and how relationships form. (As far as I know it, at least. Remember; I’m only a naive, grad student still.)

Personal Note: George Tolley was the dissertation chair of my dissertation chair which makes him sort-of like my academic grandfather. Also, as editor of Resource and Energy Economics, he accepted one of my and Glenn Blomquist’s (Tolley’s student, my disseration chair) papers that got unfairly beaten up pretty dang good at the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. I’ve never forgiven AJAE (I’ve only sent them one other paper and it was, er, rejected … yet, this year I’m on the AJAE top paper award committee [go figure]) and I’ve been ever grateful to Tolley.

Gigonomics

January 8, 2009

An article somewhat related to my previous post was published on More Intelligent Life (http://www.moreintellignetlife.com/); Gigonomics: Now Rock Bands Must Sing for Their Supper. The article discusses how the music industry is changing due to failing record sales. From a situation where record sales was the main source of income for the artists and record companies, it is now the live music concept that is emerging as the big money-maker.

In those days, for up-and-coming bands, touring was a loss leader. However much the gigs fizzed with anarchic energy, in economic terms they were little more than a long marketing slog to sell records. Now the tables have turned. […] The big money is [now] in live music, and the records help sell the tour, not the other way around.

First of all, I think touring still is mostly a marketing strategy for up-and-coming bands. As the article points out, however, todays up-and-coming bands must be just as much marketing geniuses as well as musicians to break through. For a live-music lover like me, the focus on the live experience sounds like good news. It does, however, mean that records will in the future have a different position and function than before, both for the artists and the fans. Even though I enjoy live music very much, most of the music I’m listening to is conventional albums released on CD, and I like it that way. As many people, I have a natural sceptisism towards change. A change towards less focus on releasing records and more focus on the live experience sounds a bit scary to me.

Live music is to me mostly about the music. My impression is that when the music industry wants to focus on the live experience, it is about everything else than the music; fireworks, video screens with live footage, t-shirts, VIP lounges, etc. I’ve been to a few big concerts lately (R.E.M and Neil Young, both in Bergen, are the most recent), and even though the fireworks and video shows were impressive, I would not list them among my top five live music experiences (sorry Neil). When it comes to my top live music experiences, it’s always all about the music!

The power of music

January 8, 2009

why-music

The Economist, of all possible publications, takes up a question I’ve been thinking about for years in the article Why Music? The article discusses several hypotheses regarding how and why music has emerged as an important feature of human culture. What purpose or function music had in early societies is still an open question. When you think of it, however, it should not surprise anyone that music is important to such an intelligent life-form as humans; the use of sound, singing and even dancing is quite common throughout the animal kingdom. That the modern human has developed rather abstract forms removed from the primitive uses of music and sound is neither a surprise. ‘Developed’ is a key word that I’ve not really thought much about when pondering the power of music. Maybe ‘evolved’ is a better word; given that music at some point became a central part of human culture evolution has made sure that music is ingrained deep into our genes. Simply enough, the most musically able humans have had an advantage when it comes to mating and consequently reproduction. Being musically able may also be a sign of good health, a quality one often looks for in a mate. Anyway, there seem to be a strong link between music and sex, at least in modern culture.

There is a different hypothesis, however. Music may sate an appetite that nature cannot; the (early) scarcity and luxuriousness of music lead humans to evolve a strong desire for it.

Singing is auditory masturbation […] Playing musical instruments is auditory pornography. Both sate an appetite that is there beyond its strict biological need.

The last section of The Economist article discusses one of the most mysterious things about music, namely its ability to manipulate our feelings. Certain sounds lead to sadness, other to joy; a feature composers and musicians have exploited for centuries. Scientists are only beginning to understand how music influence the brain and how emotions are formed. To cite the article again, “[…] many natural sounds evoke emotion for perfectly good reasons (fear at the howl of a wolf, pleasure at the sound of gently running water, irritation and mother-love at the crying of a child) […] music may be built on emotions originally evolved to respond to important natural sounds, but which have blossomed a hundred-fold.”

The article concludes, however, that nobody yet knows why people respond to music. A bit frustrating, of course, but it is also exciting that the question is open to discussion, and music may still be just magic!

Alan Randall on a green stimulus

January 6, 2009

There is a lot of talk in the U.S. about how to stimulate the economy out of recession. Many calls for a so-called ‘green stimulus,’ with green jobs, green energy, green this, green that. The Environmental Economics blog reports some of Alan Randall’s (a renowned environmental economist) recent comments on a green stimulus, and what it might do to the reputation of environmental economists:

Environmental economists are notorious for being too environmental for most economists and too economic for most environmentalists. […] we are now also too rigid about the microeconomics to suit the macroeconomists, and too flexible about the macroeconomics to suit the microeconomists.

Cartooon of the day

January 6, 2009

Bush-Obama cartoon

More of the same: Economist.com

New links

January 6, 2009

I’ve added quite a few new links recently;

  • AllMusic – Maybe the best online music resource; they offer articles, reviews, bios, discographies and suggestions. Not always updated though.
  • CEE – Center for Environmental Economics at UCSD. A research center I belong to that provides a community for researchers from different diciplines in San Diego. The center is headed by one of  my supervisors, Professor Theodore Groves.
  • HyperRust – The ultimate online resource when it comes to Neil Young; lyrics, guitar tabs, fan reports, etc.
  • It’s A Trap – A Scandinavian Music Journal. Mostly into alternative/popular/jazz music, and maybe biased towards the Swedish music scene, but great anyway.
  • Moskovitter – Friends in Moscow.
  • Neil’s Garage – Neil Young’s offical homepage. Often stream albums before release.
  • SNF – Another research institute I belong to (they finance my studies).
  • MathWorld – MathWorld is a comprehensive, online resource on mathematics. The articles are often quite technical and densly wirtten, but check out the ‘recreational mathematics’ pages and discover how fun math can be!

Please suggest interesting links in the comment section.