Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sex, science and profits: Kealey

This book asks whether governments should fund science. It starts with a review of the history of technological advancement. This section is like a cross between an economic history of the western world and guns germs and steal. The books title seems to be tying to trade in on the popularity of Guns and Germs which might cause people to dismiss it as pop history and miss its important arguments about current science funding.

The second section is an analyse of the industrial revolution and shows how its discoveries stemmed not from government funded pure scientists providing insights that were then used by industrialists but from tradesmen making gradual improvements to the machines they used every day. These new machines then provided evidence for the theoreticians to build up scientific theories from.

The third section looks at how contemporary science is done and examines if government funding of science increases or decreases the rate of progress (and economic growth). It includes a convincing chapter on why patents serve to harm the public.

This is an entertaining well crafted book that lays out a compelling argument for free market (rather than state subsidised) science. The book seems to have been widely ignored outside libertarian circles where he is preaching to the converted.

One thing the book does not explore is the use of other methods to incentivize science. The use of betting markets and prizes are two ways that are probably underused.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cheer up things could be worse

Chicken Licken has nothing on the news these days. Everyone is talking about "perfect storms of bad economic data" and "the worst possible recession imaginable", stuff like that. This recession is bad(pdf), much worse then most people currently believe. It is at the point where those hoarding gold are overly optimistic, they should be hoarding rice.

However you have to be really lacking in imagination to think that a complete collapse of the banking system hyperinflation of fiat currency and abandonment of all social services provisions are the worst economic event you can imagine.

Here are a collection of things that are much worse.

These sorts of inevitable disasters come round anywhere from every 100 years to 50,000 years or so
1. A Flu pandemic which killed 5% of world population.
2. Canary island volcano falling into the Atlantic.
3. Yellowstone volcano exploding
4. Rapid onset new ice age

Not inevitable but fairly likely
1. Thermonuclear war.
2. Intelligent robots that try kill us all (surely this is overdue at this point)
3. Bioterrorism of some mix of aids, smallpox, anthrax and athletes foot.

So cheer up on a geological scale this is minor. Yellowstone could explode then you’d really have problems.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bound for Whorey

I'm so angry I could drop kick a nun.

Woodie Guthrie the raving communist hater of corporations is advertising Audi cars? Are they going to have this machine kills fascists emblazoned on the side?

And whats with the papercraft? a nice biodegradable car that is put together with loving care? The sort of thing that wont mow down people and leave them clinging to the bloody stumps that used to join to their feet?

At least Woody had the decency to die before they tried to dance around in his skin in some bizarre puppet person desecration. Iggy pop on the other hand has some sort of alien inside him that makes him advertise car insurance

Friday, January 09, 2009

Enough by John Naish

We have too much food, information, stuff, and the constant quest for more is costing us our physical and mental and even planetary well being.

The good of this book is that it is correct and entertaining. The bad is

1. This bit of the brain lights up which means.... Something like this is said every few paragraphs which as the author himself points out "is like standing outside a football ground, trying to interpret the action in the game by listening to the roars of the crowd". Brain scanning is not that accurate and basing your argument on extremely scant data like this is unwise.

2. In the stone age we did X so now we do X to much in the modern world. Evolutionary just so stories. These pop up in popular culture all the time and become accepted knowledge without any evidence. We don't really know how we lived in the stone age. Looking at Bonobo society early man may have been vastly different to how we imagine it today. So the old cliche (not from the book)
Men are better at maths because they had to have spatial abilities to chase antelope. Except when you look at it that's not the reason. People thinking men are better at maths seems to be most of the cause of them being better.

This book is full of these non falsifiable fairy tales which again is not a good foundation for an argument

3. No index

4. We cannot have more stuff unless we consume more. This is taken as an axiom but it is wrong. Ephemeralization is the process where people use technological advances to continuously do more with less.

The book is right that we need to be satisfied with enough and serves as a good motivator as to how to do this personally.

Similar but better books are Collapse by Jared Diamond on what causes societies to fail and Critical Path by Buckminster Fuller on how we can provide the needs of society and move away from over consumption.