In plain view

by John Quiggin on January 27, 2006

The New Republic has a piece by Paul Thacker pointing out that Fox News science columnist Steven Milloy is a shill for, among other corporations, Philip Morris and ExxonMobil. It’s behind a paywall but that scarcely matters, because the relevant facts have been on the public record for years. As usual, Tim Lambert has the most detailed coverage, but a search of Crooked Timber will produce plenty more, and most of the info has been in Milloy’s Wikipedia entry for some time. In this context, the claim by Fox News, reported by TNR, that they were unaware of Milloy’s corporate payoffs speaks volumes for their capacity as a news organisation. I guess when you can just make it up, you don’t need to use Google.

What seems to be happening here, as with the Abramoff scandal is that facts that have been in plain view for ages can now be fitted into a media narrative – Republican sleaze in general and pundits for hire in particular. Whereas evidence of these kinds of links has been ignored or brushed aside in the past, they can now be seen as part of a systematic pattern of corruption.

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Ten second posts

by Ted on January 27, 2006

* Do you suppose that Jonah Goldberg has been asked to supplement his upcoming book, The Hitlery Cut ‘n’ Paste Funtime Reader with a chapter explaining how the Nazis were ferociously opposed to domestic wiretapping?

* I was reading the back pages of Kung Fu Monkey when I came across this, in response to Rove’s old speech that accused liberals of treason:

Did you know that the definition of treason is quite specifically defined in the Consititution? Did you know it’s the only crime actually spelled out in the Constitution? DO. YOU. KNOW. WHY?

No. Of course you don’t. Nobody ever bothers to read the goddam thing.

Because the Founding Fathers had seen the charge of treason used too many times against the political opponents of the British Government. They knew, when the government gets nervous and breaks out the Big Evil Golf Bag of Shutting Up Questions, the first club out is the Treason Charge. They knew the first guy to yell treason was the bastard.

* I’m all for liberals making a fuss about unfair and inaccurate news. I agree that it distorts the news when media organizations get a tempest of feedback when they offend the right without a similar level of feedback when they offend the left. In other words, ditto. And this warms my heart.

But, let’s be realistic about what we’re doing. I can’t remember where I saw it, but one line sticks in my mind: “Conservatives get upset when the media do their jobs, while liberals get upset when the media don’t do their jobs.” Come on, guys. I like honest partisan pushback, and I’d like to see more of it, but it’s simply not the same thing as apolitical media criticism. If there is such thing as apolitical media criticism.

* What bothers me most about Mickey Kaus’s crusade against Brokeback Mountain is not the dumb-ass argument that people go to the movies simply to ogle the opposite-sex actors (hence the pathetic failure of Reservoir Dogs with male audiences), nor the implication that he just isn’t crazy about watching gay intimacy. A lot of people aren’t. What bothers me is his overriding resentment (or, given his professional persona, his faux-resentment) that imaginary liberals would fail to to treat his discomfort with respectful silence.

* Do you ever think that A** C****** will turn back into a mummy if thirty days pass without her name in the press? It would explain a lot.

Here we go again … this story has been making the news recently, about some types at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization. They have got some data from a site that tracks dollar bills and used it to make a statistical model of human travel, which will apparently save us all from bird flu.

I saw the news story in the Guardian and thought “I wonder if they will discover that the phenomenon they are studying is described by a power law?” … and the answer is yes they do.

I then thought “I wonder if they will more or less entirely ignore the existing literature on epidemics?” … and as far as I can see the answer is yes they do.

And finally I thought “It would be presumably too much to hope that there is a serious attempt made to test the power law model against alternative distributional assumptions” … and the answer is yes, it would be too much to hope.

They’re also quite naive about banknotes. At one point in the paper, they seem to believe that bank notes “exit the money-tracking system for a long time, for instance in banks”. Of course, banks don’t contain large piles of banknotes sitting around for months on end; the only bank notes you will find in a bank are the ones being stored in the ATMs and the tills, and these obviously turn over pretty rapidly. Furthermore, I would guess that the average human being makes fewer journeys to a banknote sorting centre than the average banknote (I suspect that several of the odd statistical properties that they found relate to the locations of sorting centres in the US). Humph.

People have been laughing at physicists for this sort of thing for quite a while now but with no noticeable effect. It’s all very laudable that they’re taking a bit of interest, but we still clearly haven’t conquered the hard-science arrogance problem yet …

Edit: Actually thinking about it, this is not an entirely worthless paper. If they are correct to claim that epidemic models use a diffusion process to model travelling humans (and there is nothing in the paper to make me think they have done an exhaustive literature search) then epidemic models are being silly and should stop. Human beings don’t diffuse – they go from one specific place to another. Otoh I seem to remember a lot of quite detailed modelling of SARS which certainly did take airline routes into account so I suspect that the diffusion assumption is really only found in toy models in basic-level textbooks.

Castles and Henderson, again

by John Quiggin on January 27, 2006

People who’ve been following the debate about global warming closely will be aware that the economic modelling used in projections of future climate change by the IPCC has been severely criticised by former Australian Statistician Ian Castles and former OECD chief economist David Henderson. The critique emerged in a rather confused form, with a number of letters and opinion pieces before finally being published in contrarian social science journal Energy and Environment. Responses, including mine, have been similarly partial and sporadic.

I’ve finally prepared a full-scale response to the main claim made by Castles and Henderson, that the use of market exchange rates, rather than “Purchasing Power Parity” conversion factors for national currencies, biases estimates of future emissions upwards. My conclusion is that although PPP measures are preferable in comparisons of national welfare, the biases introduced by using market exchange rates are not important in modelling emissions and will, on average, cancel out. You can read it all here.

Update: Ian Castles has sent a response which I’ve posted here. It doesn’t seem to me that Ian responds to my argument except to deny that the MER/PPP issue was the main point of the critique.

I should also note that Holtsmark and Alfsen (2004), whose paper I’ve just found, present much the same argument as mine.

“Our Audience Is Engaged With The Blog”

by Belle Waring on January 27, 2006

I have to agree with Scott Lemieux about the validity of self-reported incomes in responses to an online questionnaire. Is the “mean average” [sic] income of LGF readers actually over $105,000? Do Roger Simon readers really pull down a (mean, natch) average of $116,000? Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that user death2dhimmicrats5 claimed to be making…one BILLION dollars a year. Click through to the linked Dennis the Peasant post for more hilarity. A bewildered commenter there wonders:

In a prior career, my title was “Media Buyer”. If this is accurate it’s highly pathetic. With all their money, couldn’t PJM come up with $15k to put together a bitchin’ printed media kit? Media buyers like to have something tangible in their hands. And don’t they have a WebEX account? What the heck is going on?

I feel horrible for laughing at this because I have been a fan of LGF and Glenn and Roger for 3+ years. These guys are savvy at so many things, but this is a fiasco. How can this happen?

How, indeed? And if the Pajamas Media readers love The Blog so much, why don’t they marry it? Oh, wait, looks like they’re working on it.