Knols, wikis and reality

by John Quiggin on December 15, 2007

After reading lots of discussion of Google’s knol initiative, I finally got around to actually looking at the example screenshot, which is about insomnia. Naturally, I was interested to look at the competition provided by the Wikipedia article on the same topic.

The Wikipedia article starts with a cleanup-needed tag (maybe Google’s choice of example topic wasn’t accidental in this respect), but doesn’t look all that bad. What’s startling is that wiki and knol disagree on some fairly basic points.

The knol, written by Rachel Manber states, without citation, that insomnia affects about one in ten US adults, which I would guess to be about 25 million people. Wikipedia says ’60 million Americans suffer from insomnia each year” and supports this with a link to the NIH which says “About 60 million Americans a year have insomnia frequently or for extended periods of time, which leads to even more serious sleep deficits.” . This WebMD article says “In a 1991 survey, 30-35% of adult Americans reported difficulty sleeping in the past year and 10% reported the insomnia to be chronic, severe, or both” again consistent with Wikipedia. It looks as if the knol introductory sentence should have stated “chronic or severe”.

There’s also disagreement over classifications of transient, acute and chronic insomnia. The knol classification is purely on duration, while the Wikipedia article offers a rather confusing mix of duration and causative indicators. A quick search of the web suggests that there’s lots of different definitions out there.

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The 75 per cent solution: tourism

by John Quiggin on December 15, 2007

A lot of discussion of climate change is based on the implicit or explicit premise that, since we use energy in everything we do, and most energy is derived from carbon-based fuels, large reductions in CO2 emissions will require radical changes in the way we live. Some people welcome this prospect, but most do not.

Having looked at this problem in various different ways, I’m convinced that this premise is wrong, and that quite modest changes, many of which would follow more or less directly from the imposition of a suitable cost on CO2 emissions, could achieve large reductions in emissions. I’ve argued this at the macro level, based on demand elasticity estimates, and also at the micro level in terms of road transport. I thought it might be a good idea to attempt more micro estimates and, as I was visiting Cairns last week[1], my thoughts naturally turned to long-distance tourism.

So, this is hoped to be the first in a series where I consider the question: Could we reduce emissions in a given sector of the economy by 75 per cent in a way that wouldn’t substantially change the services delivered by that sector?

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