Tuesday, April 28, 2009

President Obama addressed the National Academy of Sciences

As President Obama announced substantial, permanent increases in funding for science and a renewed commitment to science education, he reminded us of the connections between science and our form of government--referring to "this experiment we call America." Here are some highlights:
    • Our progress as a nation –- and our values as a nation –- are rooted in free and open inquiry. To undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy. It is contrary to our way of life. (Applause.)
    • We also need to engage the scientific community directly in the work of public policy. And that's why, today, I am announcing the appointment -- we are filling out the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, known as PCAST, and I intend to work with them closely. [...] I will charge PCAST with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation.
    • There are, right now, chemists who could teach chemistry, physicists who could teach physics, statisticians who could teach mathematics. But we need to create a way to bring the expertise and the enthusiasm of these folks –- folks like you –- into the classroom.
    • In the next decade –- by 2020 –- America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That is a goal that we are going to set.
    • I think all of you understand it will take far more than the work of government. It will take all of us. It will take all of you. And so today I want to challenge you to use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation.
    • I want you to know that I'm going to be working alongside you. I'm going to participate in a public awareness and outreach campaign to encourage students to consider careers in science and mathematics and engineering -- because our future depends on it.
    • At root, science forces us to reckon with the truth as best as we can ascertain it.
    • And some truths fill us with awe. Others force us to question long-held views. Science can't answer every question, and indeed, it seems at times the more we plumb the mysteries of the physical world, the more humble we must be.
    • Science cannot supplant our ethics or our values, our principles or our faith. But science can inform those things and help put those values -- these moral sentiments, that faith -- can put those things to work -- to feed a child, or to heal the sick, to be good stewards of this Earth.

Posted from Diigo.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Applying behavioral economics to climate change

Behavioral economics never ceases to fascinate. Some selections from a Seed magazine piece on how people might trick themselves into more climate-friendly behavior:
(from Seed via BoingBoing)
  • The Last Experiment § SEEDMAGAZINE.COM

    • If human beings were the perfectly rational creatures imagined by classical economists, we would have done something about climate change by now. But the central insight of behavioral economics — the once heretical but now ascendant paradigm in economics, particularly following the 2002 Nobel Prize awarded to one of its founders, Daniel Kahneman — is that humans aren’t fully rational. All sorts of cognitive limitations prevent us from being so, and behavioral economists have spent much of the past decades discovering, describing, and naming our many mental shortcuts and biases, and ascribing our various irrational tendencies to their effects. Ben Ho’s particular interest is in how people’s feelings of guilt and altruism can be leveraged to reduce their carbon footprint, and he presented his findings at the November conference in a talk he titled “Using Behavioral Economics to Save the World.”
    • Early in Ho’s presentation, he mentioned a book called Nudge, written by the behavioral economist Richard Thaler...the Obama administration nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In their book, Thaler and Sunstein coin a term: choice architecture.
    • They argue that because the way in which we are presented with information changes our response to it, the best choice architecture gently steers us into the salubrious behavior that more thoroughly rational beings would choose.
    • Nudge describes a simple but astonishing experiment along such lines: Residents of a community were shown how their energy use measured up against the communal average. If they consumed more than the average, most reduced energy in the months ahead. If households saw that they consumed less energy than their peers, however, their energy use actually rose, except when the frugal households were given the merest of rewards: a smiley face on their bill.

Posted from Diigo.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not Your Father's Censorship - ChronicleReview.com

from Harry Lewis:
  • tags: censorship, privacy

    • Now, with almost everything digitized, new communication technologies have led to a global proliferation of censorship agents, methods, and rationales. Ironically for the American pioneers who expected the Internet to foster unprecedented information freedom, its rapid and ubiquitous adoption has created a flexible and effective mechanism for thought control.
    • Governments love and fear the Internet. It's a cheap agent of economic growth, but it also delivers disturbing and subversive ideas at very low cost.
    • Since the Internet and the tools that make it useful are mostly in corporate hands, digital censorship relies on the private sector.
    • ...so far, profit from the global information economy has trumped principles of information freedom.
    • Copyright law is the new frontier of censorship.
    • In response to panic in the recording industry about music file sharing, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. The DMCA seems to have made hardly a dent in the sharing of songs and movies, but it has justified a nasty war between recording studios and the teenagers on whom the industry depends. Other parties are being dragged into the fight. The recording and motion-picture industries are pressuring colleges to screen everything that flows over their campus networks in order to stop the unauthorized delivery of copyrighted songs and movies to students' rooms.
    • No one advocates breaking the law, but such screening is inconsistent with academic principles of open communication. Suppose some students were acquiring unauthorized photocopies of textbooks. Would any university respond by opening and inspecting every parcel delivered to a student's room? And yet such pre-emptive antipiracy measures have become plausible, even on a grand scale.
    • U.S. copyright law is such a heavy club that it can abet censorship by parties that simply object to what people are saying about them. Under the DMCA, if Alice posts a video on YouTube and Bob claims that it infringes his copyright, he can issue a takedown notice demanding that YouTube remove the video. YouTube need not comply with Bob's demand, but if it does, it will enjoy a safe harbor from subsequent liability. Alice can lodge a counterclaim, but YouTube has to wait 10 business days before restoring the material, to give Bob the opportunity to take Alice to court.
    • That regime sounds balanced but isn't. It provides immediate satisfaction for Bob and a substantial delay for Alice. If Bob and Alice are unequal parties — Bob is a studio and Alice an independent artist, for example — hiring lawyers is likely to be routine for Bob and a burden on Alice. If Bob demands that Alice's material be pulled, Alice, whatever the merits of her case, may prefer to avoid a legal snarl.
    • Ironically, even the McCain-Palin campaign, which explicitly promised to "crack down on piracy," fell victim to the DMCA's censorial abuse. The campaign complained to YouTube that its videos and advertisements had repeatedly "been the subject of DMCA takedown notices regarding uses that are clearly privileged under the fair-use doctrine," which allows noncommercial use of small amounts of copyrighted material for purposes of discussion and critique. (For example, CBS objected to a McCain ad that contained a short clip from Katie Couric's news show.) McCain's attorney argued that two weeks is an eternity during a political campaign, and that the takedown process might chill political discourse. YouTube not unreasonably responded that it couldn't sort out disputes between disagreeing parties but would look forward to working with either President or Senator McCain to improve the law.
    • The Internet is, for the most part, privately owned. So is the publishing business, where the free market has always worked. If a publisher doesn't want my book, I can take my business elsewhere, but I can't cry censorship. We wouldn't want government regulation of book publishers, and we don't need it.
    • The Internet is different from publishing, in fact if not in theory. Were one publisher as dominant as Google or YouTube, its corporate judgments might have a very big impact on the free flow of ideas.
    • And the DMCA protocol presents opportunities for the powerful to suppress speech by spurious invocation of copyright law. In the United States, the Internet is still the "most participatory form of mass speech yet developed," as a federal judge, Stewart R. Dalzell, wrote in overturning an early Internet-censorship law. For the Internet to remain so, more legislation will be needed to guarantee its openness.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

NOAA Head Jane Lubchenco On Ocean Policy : NPR

Follow this link to listen to Jane Lubcheco's interview on Science Friday. She's got it together.
  • tags: ocean, climate change, green

    • What is on the horizon for the U.S. role in ocean management? Jane Lubchenco, newly-confirmed administrator of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), discusses her top priorities for ocean policy — from forming a National Climate Service to ending overfishing.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Green Issue - Batteries Not Included - NYTimes.com

Highlights from The New York Times piece on swapping batteries stations for electric cars. It's one solution to the problem of recharging electric car batteries, which can take long time. This could really work.
  • tags: nytimes.com, green

    • Agassi never regarded himself as a particularly ardent environmentalist. But in 2005, he attended a meeting of young global leaders at the World Economic Forum at Davos where they discussed the question “How would you make the world a better place?”
    • After giving it some thought himself, he ultimately decided the answer was: By ending the world’s addiction to oil, which would mean finally getting people to drive electric cars. Hybrids, he argued, were a half-measure. Alternative fuels like hydrogen or natural gas or bio­fuels weren’t going to be readily available anytime soon. Only electricity fit the bill. It is plentiful, already widely distributed and can be generated from extremely low- or zero-emissions sources like solar or wind farms.
    • As he crunched the numbers, what really struck Agassi was how lucrative a business like this could be.
    • Powering a car by electricity — even relatively expensive “clean” energy like wind or solar — costs far less than powering it by gasoline.
    • The Tesla all-electric sedan, for example, uses about 1 cent of electricity per mile. A comparable gasoline car uses 16 cents of gasoline per mile.
    • And with the United States market for automobile gas at roughly $275 billion, Agassi figured that a company controlling a world network of charging stations would become so profitable so quickly that it could subsidize its customers’ electric cars, much the way mobile companies give out free phones to people who sign two-year contracts.
    • Within months, he had acquired crucial political and financial backing for Better Place. Peres’s support helped; the president wanted Israel to be the company’s first test market, and Peres began working as an icebreaker inside the government, getting skeptical politicians to begin designing tax incentives and cheap debt to finance the firm.
    • Then one day, he and an automotive engineer were chewing over an impractical method for quickly replenishing batteries. The engineer wondered aloud: Wouldn’t the fastest way to charge an electric car be to simply replace the battery?
    • It was, Agassi says, his “aha” moment. The auto industry’s conceptual error, he says, is in regarding the battery as a built-in component of the car, like a gas tank. Instead, you could think of the battery as more analogous to gas itself — an entity that goes in and out of a car as needed, owned not by the driver but by the company that sells you the fuel.
    • Think of the problem that way, Agassi realized, and the recharging company could refill its customers’ cars using battery technology and the existing electric grid without making any radical new technological innovations. The solution to electric cars lay not in re-engineering the battery but in re-engineering the car.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"Science Literacy" is ultimately a form of critical thinking

We need a more informed public when it comes to science, no question.
We need journalists to properly present scientific facts in context, without lending undeserved "equal weight" to unscientific or even anti-scientific sentiment. Again, no question.

But we will never have a public that thinks critically if we try to protect them from ideas we don't think they're ready to parse.

I like how Bob Garfield (of "On the Media") covered the uproar over the provocative profile of Freeman Dyson in The New York Times Magazine.

The following quotations are from the episode. Link:  On The Media: Transcript of "Getting Heated" (April 10, 2009)
  • The New York Times Magazine published a cover story on Freeman Dyson, an eminent physicist who has been in residency at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies since the 1950s. The piece, titled The Global Warming Heretic, chronicles, among other things, Dyson’s unorthodox opinions on climate change, namely his belief that scientists rely too much on computer generated models and that carbon dioxide, which is contained in coal smoke, is not that bad for the environment. Of course, his thinking flies in the face of an overwhelming preponderance of scientific research. Dyson himself says that his views might be wrong and they're, quote, “more a matter of judgment than knowledge.”

    tags: science, nytimes, on the media, climate change, science literacy

    • The New York Times Magazine published a cover story on Freeman Dyson, an eminent physicist who has been in residency at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies since the 1950s. The piece, titled The Global Warming Heretic, chronicles, among other things, Dyson’s unorthodox opinions on climate change, namely his belief that scientists rely too much on computer generated models and that carbon dioxide, which is contained in coal smoke, is not that bad for the environment.

      Of course, his thinking flies in the face of an overwhelming preponderance of scientific research. Dyson himself says that his views might be wrong and they're, quote, “more a matter of judgment than knowledge.”

    • Some of the reaction to the article was severe, as bloggers and online commenters questioned the magazine’s judgment, author Nicholas Dawidoff’s credentials and Freeman Dyson’s grip on reality. Among the most vitriolic was Joe Romm, a writer for The Climate Progress blog at the Center for American Progress, who ridiculed all involved and alleged that the attention devoted to Freeman Dyson was shameful.
    • BOB GARFIELD: You know, I've got to say, back in the '70s a guy named William Shockley, who had won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on developing the transistor, started coming out with some generally crackpot theories on race and was ridiculed and attacked, but the outrageousness of his theories did not make me less want to know what led to his using his Nobel Laureate status as a bully pulpit for racist, pseudoscientific views. I wanted to know more about him, not less.

      When people say controversial things, shouldn't we want to know more about them, not less?

    • JOE ROMM: Because of the way it covers global warming and similar issues as he-said/she-said, the media guarantee that a certain fraction of the [LAUGHS] community is going to go out there and say outrageous things to be covered. I think that if there’s a fire in a theater and you are screaming, there’s no fire, don't move, then you don't deserve a cover profile in The New York Times Magazine.

      BOB GARFIELD: Don't you give the audience any credit for a story that clearly characterizes Dyson’s views as way beyond the scientific consensus? Do you credit them not at all for being able to parse the relative weight of these arguments?

    • JOE ROMM: The public is not scientifically expert, and the public’s ability to distinguish science and pseudoscience, which sound pretty much the same, is very small. So it is up to the filters, the media, to use its own judgment based on talking to many different sources and itself weighing the credibility of sources.

      What The New York Times Magazine has done is elevate Dyson to a very high degree of credibility as a highly credible source on global warming, which he isn't.

      BOB GARFIELD: Wow, I so can't believe we've read the same story. The story I read didn't promote his opinions in any fashion, such as you’re describing.

    • BOB GARFIELD: I think you’re also ignoring the preponderance of The New York Times’ reporting over the years, the extensive coverage that, for example, Andrew Revkin has given to this subject, you know, that I would say in no way sugarcoats the issue of climate change.
    • JOE ROMM: The New York Times does do some fine reporting on global warming, but the reader of this piece may or may not have read that. The media doesn't have unlimited space and certainly not in high profile places like a cover profile in The New York Times Magazine. And when they choose to write at length about a man like this, they are saying his ideas merit serious discussion.
    • BOB GARFIELD: I've got to tell you, Joe, you know, this show has been right out in front of criticizing the way the media have covered global warming on precisely the false equivalency issues that we've discussed, but I just didn't see this story as having done that. It seems to me that you’re not even angry about this story so much as you are about the press’ whole history of covering this issue.
  • Next, Garfield interviewed Dawidoff, author of the profile.
    • BOB GARFIELD: Does it matter, from a journalistic point of view, whether he’s right or whether he’s wrong?

      NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF: Oh, absolutely not. ...I have no investment in what he thinks. I'm just interested in how he thinks and the depth and the singularity of his point of view. He’s a completely original person, and a brilliant and an unusual and an accomplished person, and an unpredictable person, and that’s what attracts me to him. I just think that he is so worth listening to, whether you agree with him or not. And I certainly don't agree with everything that he says, but I'm interested in everything that he says. And there are not that many people in this world about who you can say, “I'm interested in everything that he says.”

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Standardizing our language for climate change

These are quotations from the following link:
    • Bowman agrees with the National Research Council that scientific understanding of climate change has outstripped society's capacity to use the knowledge. Bowman says the solution is to adapt scientific communication to make the science behind climate change comprehensible to non-experts. "Simplifying the complex science and translating the scientific language allows all members of society – both policy makers and consumers – to confront the climate crisis and make informed decisions. We need to put the science in the hands of the people," says Bowman.
    • ...urge scientists to establish a single frame of reference for atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and rising global temperatures. Standardized measurement will provide the public with consistent reporting on these critical parameters, reduce confusion, and help decision-makers to base their sustainability choices on accurate science.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Annals of Public Policy: Getting There from Here: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

Though this was in the January '09 issue of The New Yorker, I keep referring to it in conversations about health care. More people need to see this.
Our revised health care system will necessarily be built on existing platforms. We won't be starting from scratch. But Gawande describes how health care was revised in other countries, making it easy to see what's possible here in our own.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Steven Chu gets rock star status

Steven Chu gets rock star status

"Ok, so Steven Chu didn't get his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone... but he did get picked as one of the magazine's "100 people who are changing America" in the March 18 online issue."

from symmetry breaking, the symmetry magazine blog

Posted using ShareThis

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

On The Media: Transcript of "Blogging the Stimulus"

The following quotations are passages I highlighted in this article using diigo:
    • Steve Coll is a fearless journalist, going deep into territory that many deem impenetrable. I refer, of course, to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a.k.a. the stimulus bill. He’s reading every page of it and blogging about it for The New Yorker.
    • I came in [LAUGHS] on a Monday morning and I was full of vim, and I thought, well, I ought to print this bill out and read it. And I was reminded of some other blogging that I'd read and been inspired by, by a guy named David Plotz at Slate, who had blogged the entire Bible by reading it cold, and it had been very funny and very interesting.
    • But he was dealing with source material that is filled with drama and tragedy and morality. And you were starting with a Stimulus bill.
    • Right, and I figured that out soon enough. At first I thought, well, the wonkiness of it, the actual material will be sufficient to generate interest, and then I pretty quickly discovered that wasn't the case. So I decided that the only way to do it was to treat it as a travelogue – to see the landscape of the federal government as illuminated by our Congress and its decisions in the Stimulus bill.
    • And then there are obscure corners of our government that you encounter through this travel that you realize, just reading the text, are occupied by an entire subculture of specialists [BOB LAUGHS] who, for [LAUGHS] many years, unexamined, have been going about their work. And just to contemplate what it is they do and what they're now going to do with a billion extra dollars has been interesting.
    • Now, we've discussed this project as being Plotzian in nature, but it also is kind of a throwback to I.F. Stone, who always spoke of how close reading government documents enables you to find hidden stories with great drama. What have you discovered that you think fits into that category?
    • he bill is kind of a pastiche of theories about how to spend the government money not only to jolt the economy but to create a different political economy after the recession is over.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

On The Media: Transcript of "The Infinite Shelf"

The following quotations are passages I highlighted in this article using diigo:
  • Interview with Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Library
    • In 2004, Google began digitizing the collections of major libraries for a service it calls Google Book Search. Soon after, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers joined forces for a lawsuit on behalf of copyright holders, who were never asked for permission, thank you, and wanted fair compensation.

      Well, the parties have since reached a settlement, putting Google in a position to be a modern Library of Alexandria with full texts of millions of titles online. And libraries are free, right? Um, not this one.

    • So there are roughly three kinds of books – those in the public domain, those that are under copyright and in print, and those that are under copyright and out of print, and there’s a vast number of those in the latter category that no one would have access to if Google didn't digitize them and put them online.
    • And Google will make these books available everywhere in the country, maybe someday everywhere in the world. So imagine a small library in, let's say, a small town in the Midwest. By subscribing to Google Book Search, readers there will have access to, well, a library that will be something like the Library of Alexandria - certainly, I think, in a few years, greater than the Library of Congress.
    • You've said that you admire many of the business practices of Google, but you’re concerned that they may one day impose exorbitant prices, and you cite the example of scholarly journals as a kind of cautionary tale.
    • I think once people get used to this fabulous access, they will say, this is a necessity of life. Maybe not one particular book, but the general service of having at your fingertips the largest library in the world, this is too good to be believed, and it could result in what we call “cocaine pricing.” That is, you sample it for a while and you find that the service is great. Then it becomes a bit more expensive and still more expensive, and nothing can stop the ratcheting up of the cost. Now, I don't believe that Google is out to do evil at all. I just think that it’s a monopoly, and monopolies have a way of charging monopoly prices.
    • Right, because the settlement evidently does not allow for actual competition to Google.
    • That’s correct. There is something called a “most favored nation” clause. That means that if any competitor came along, that competitor could not be offered more favorable terms than the terms that Google already has.
    • And though Google, as you say, may not do evil, you do note that the purpose of the settlement was to, quote, “maximize revenues” and not to facilitate the spread of information.
    • Well, the enlightenment dream, which you see everywhere in the works of the philosophers of the enlightenment of the 18th century, is a dream in which the printing press is put to service in order to spread knowledge.
    • I think ordinary Americans actually believe in it. They think that knowledge will empower you, enrich your life, and that it ought to be basically free. That dream is something that I think was foremost at the founding of our republic. ... I love books, and I really think that there is a democratic quality to digitization. But if those supplying it are simply trying to maximize profits, the whole thing could turn sour.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.