mirrors and myths, a small window, the incentive to act badly

Galileo’s Glassworks: The Telescope and the Mirror by Eileen Reeves. Reviewed by A. Mark Smith (pdf). As much an interesting lesson in second-hand information and how important details can be lost in the retailing of what someone saw as it is about how Galileo came to invent his version of the telescope. Galileo or the friend that passed along some information about some inventions in northern Europe may have mistakenly imagined a mirror was part of a new optical device by the Dutch because of a widespread legend that the Pharos of Alexandria had a mirror that was so bright it could burn enemy ships at a distance.

a small window

Scientific expertise lacking among ‘doubters’ of climate change, according to analysis by Stanford researchers

The small number of scientists who are unconvinced that human beings have contributed significantly to climate change have far less expertise and prominence in climate research compared with scientists who are convinced, according to a study led by Stanford researchers.

In a quantitative assessment – the first of its kind to address this issue – the team analyzed the number of research papers published by more than 900 climate researchers and the number of times their work was cited by other scientists.

Like the legend of the ship destroying mirror the IPCC non-scandal and those hacked e-mails, the myth which denies the reality of climate change will last as nearly as long as the science. With the exception of PBS (not Public radio) the networks do a terrible job of covering science when they bother to cover it at all.

The Incentives Catastrophe.

Incentives matter. In fact, they determine outcomes. It’s obvious, but we usually forget this law until after the fact, after the crisis, when we ask almost naively: “Why did they act that way?” The law of incentives is what links the Wall Street cataclysm and BP’s ongoing eco-disaster: In each case, we socialized risk and privatized gain, creating an asymmetry that created an incentive for private actors to accept and create too much risk in their business model, believing that at the end of the day, somebody else would bear the burden of that risk, should it metastasize into a disaster.

[  ]…BP and the other companies drilling in deep water have been offered the same pleasant asymmetry: There is a statutory liability cap of $75 million for ocean spills that are not the consequence of either gross negligence or willful misconduct. That sounds like a big number, but is foolishly small in the context of real-world damages to the environment. There is no cap, needless to say, on the profits that can be derived from the wells drilled. Knowing that they would not have to bear the full risk and pay all the damages that might result from safety lapses—but that they could garner the full upside of profits made by cutting safety corners—BP did precisely what our incentives told them to do. Is anybody surprised, consequently, that BP took on too much risk in the way it drilled, baby, drilled?

Another legend goes that given complete freedom – business, the business executive – will preserve the commons because it is in their best interests. A $500,000 safety device was a corner that could be cut – commons be damned – short term gain triumphed over long term good.

Saint Anthony of Padua distributing Bread by Willem van Herp the Elder circa 1662

Right and Left Wings in Libertarianism

Abstract: In Political Science one can observe various discourses to defining the  essence of libertarianism, which are based on (Boaz, 1998) different philosophical  approaches to the institutions of central political power (especially the state). Today, interpretations of right-libertarian ideological complex are most popular in the scientific literature and in the popular imagination. Yet, since the middle of 19th century – the concept of libertarianism had been used in a left political context, and only in 1950s its right ideological context use came into fashion.

It is amazing the number of people on the extreme right and left though the last 90 years have switched either from the far right to the far left or left to far right. Occasionally I’ll mention how difficult is to effect progress and change minds. That is not because the arguments by the center to liberal are bad, but because of human psychology. Some people do like subtle shades of  political philosophy. Nor do they desire to progress to such subtlety. Libertarians for the most part – seek a kind of political purity – the kind they can never find a successful example of in the historical record and whose small scale experiments have failed. While purity seeking conservatives remain in denial about the years 2000 -2008. Wars premised on a narrative so lame if it was used in a paperback we’d call it cheesy pulp-fiction. The economy was financed on your grand-children’s future and the Chinese Credit Card.The problem was not the structural flaws of conservatism it was those other guys who didn’t get the purity of the con vision. Just plain liberalism comes equipped with the same general striving for balance – a certain level of order ( a rejection of anarchism), valuing individual freedom, the respect for the commons and the rights of workers and business owners, as ye old school left libertarianism, without the infantile dreams of right-libertarianism – Rand Paul, The Mises Institute, most of the writers at Reason lately.

Contropussy – Webcomic Series by Emma Caulfield, Camilla Rantsen, Christian Meesey, and Thomas Mauer. The graphics are safe for work, but the language could be interpreted as offensive by some. The start is here 001 and an interesting possible future social networking site 063 “Snifbook”.