Posts tagged ‘Nobel Prize’

The Meteor Extinction Debate Looks A LOT Like the Climate Debate

This article about a skeptic of the dominant Alvarez meteor-extinction debate is quite interesting and worth a read.  Gerta Keller has had quite an interesting life.  But I will say I found it particularly fascinating comparing details here to the climate debate.  Here are a few example quotes that will seem very familiar to those who have watched the back and forth over global warming, particularly from the skeptic side:

Keller’s resistance has put her at the core of one of the most rancorous and longest-running controversies in science. “It’s like the Thirty Years’ War,” says Kirk Johnson, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Impacters’ case-closed confidence belies decades of vicious infighting, with the two sides trading accusations of slander, sabotage, threats, discrimination, spurious data, and attempts to torpedo careers. “I’ve never come across anything that’s been so acrimonious,” Kerr says. “I’m almost speechless because of it.” Keller keeps a running list of insults that other scientists have hurled at her, either behind her back or to her face. She says she’s been called a “bitch” and “the most dangerous woman in the world,” who “should be stoned and burned at the stake.”

Nobel prize winner Alvarez sounds a bit like Michael Mann:

Ad hominem attacks had by then long characterized the mass-extinction controversy, which came to be known as the “dinosaur wars.” Alvarez had set the tone. His numerous scientific exploits—winning the Nobel Prize in Physics, flying alongside the crew that bombed Hiroshima, “X-raying” Egypt’s pyramids in search of secret chambers—had earned him renown far beyond academia, and he had wielded his star power to mock, malign, and discredit opponents who dared to contradict him. In The New York Times, Alvarez branded one skeptic “not a very good scientist,” chided dissenters for “publishing scientific nonsense,” suggested ignoring another scientist’s work because of his “general incompetence,” and wrote off the entire discipline of paleontology when specialists protested that the fossil record contradicted his theory. “I don’t like to say bad things about paleontologists, but they’re really not very good scientists,” Alvarez told TheTimes. “They’re more like stamp collectors.”

This sounds familiar, dueling battles between models and observations:

That the dinosaur wars drew in scientists from multiple disciplines only added to the bad blood. Paleontologists resented arriviste physicists, like Alvarez, for ignoring their data; physicists figured the stamp collectors were just bitter because they hadn’t cracked the mystery themselves. Differing methods and standards of proof failed to translate across fields. Where the physicists trusted models, for example, geologists demanded observations from fieldwork.

There is pal review

he said impacters had warned some of her collaborators not to work with her, even contacting their supervisors in order to pressure them to sever ties. (Thierry Adatte and Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, who have worked with Keller for years, confirmed this.) Keller listed numerous research papers whose early drafts had been rejected, she felt, because pro-impact peer reviewers “just come out and regurgitate their hatred.”

And charges that key data is not being shared to avoid it falling in the hands of skeptics

She suspected repeated attempts to deny her access to valuable samples extracted from the Chicxulub crater, such as in 2002, when the journal Nature reported on accusations that Jan Smit had seized control of a crucial piece of rock—drilled at great expense—and purposefully delayed its distribution to other scientists, a claim Smit called “ridiculous.” (Keller told me the sample went missing and was eventually found in Smit’s duffel bag; Smit says this is “pure fantasy.”)

Leading to a familiar discussion of scientific consensus

Keller and others accuse the impacters of trying to squash deliberation before alternate ideas can get a fair hearing. Though geologists had bickered for 60 years before reaching a consensus on continental drift, Alvarez declared the extinction debate over and done within two years. “That the asteroid hit, and that the impact triggered the extinction of much of the life of the sea … are no longer debatable points,” he said in a 1982 lecture.....

All the squabbling raises a question: How will the public know when scientists have determined which scenario is right? It is tempting, but unreliable, to trust what appears to be the majority opinion. Forty-one co-authors signed on to a 2010 Science paper asserting that Chicxulub was, after all the evidence had been evaluated, conclusively to blame for the dinosaurs’ death. Case closed, again. Although some might consider this proof of consensus, dozens of geologists, paleontologists, and biologists wrote in to the journal contesting the paper’s methods and conclusions. Science is not done by vote.

Government Intrusion A-OK at the Guardian When It Was Aimed At Their Competitors

From Brendan O'Neill via JD Tuccille

If there was a Nobel Prize for Double Standards, Britain’s chattering classes would win it every year. This year, following their expressions of spittle-flecked outrage over the detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda by anti-terrorism police at Heathrow airport, they’d have to be given a special Lifetime Achievement Award for Double Standards.

For the newspaper editors, politicians and concerned tweeters now getting het up about the state’s interference in journalistic activity, about what they call the state’s ‘war on journalism’, are the very same people – the very same – who over the past two years cheered the state harassment of tabloid journalists; watched approvingly as tabloid journalists were arrested; turned a blind eye when tabloid journalists’ effects were rifled through by the police; said nothing about the placing of tabloid journalists on limbo-like, profession-destroying bail for months on end; said ‘Well, what do you expect?’ when material garnered by tabloid journalists through illegal methods was confiscated; applauded when tabloid journalists were imprisoned for the apparently terrible crime of listening in on the conversations of our hereditary rulers.

For these cheerleaders of the state’s two-year war on redtop journalism now to gnash their teeth over the state’s poking of its nose into the affairs of the Guardianis extraordinary. It suggests that what they lack in moral consistency they more than make up for with brass neck.

Everything that is now being done to the Guardian has already been done to the tabloid press, a hundred times over, and often at the behest of the Guardian.

Freaking Hilarious Take on Krugman

Steven Landsburg via Mark Perry

It's always impressive to see one person excel in two widely disparate activities: a first-rate mathematician who's also a world class mountaineer, or a titan of industry who conducts symphony orchestras on the side. But sometimes I think Paul Krugman is out to top them all, by excelling in two activities that are not just disparate but diametrically opposed: economics (for which he was awarded a well-deserved Nobel Prize) and obliviousness to the lessons of economics (for which he's been awarded a column at the New York Times).

It's a dazzling performance. Time after time, Krugman leaves me wide-eyed with wonder at how much economics he has to forget to write those columns.

Nobel Prize, for sure

Wow, I am not sure how I missed this seminal work, but I discovered it today via Steven Levitt.  The work is titled "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson" by Robert J. Oxoby of the University of Calgary Economics Department. 

Our treatment variable in the experiment was the type of music played while individuals were making their decisions. As demonstrated by Bernardi et al. (2006), different musical styles can have different physiological effects in individuals. These effects, along with emotional responses, may result in different patterns of decision making regarding distributing money between oneself and another. In our Bon Scott treatment, participants listened to "It's a Long Way to the Top" (featuring Bon Scott on vocals) from the album High Voltage. In our Brian Johnson treatment, participants listened to "Shoot to Thrill" (featuring Brian Johnson on vocals) from the album Back in Black....

our analysis suggests that in terms of affecting efficient decision making among listeners, Brian Johnson was a better singer. Our analysis has direct implications for policy and organizational design: when policymakers or employers are engaging in negotiations (or setting up environments in which other parties will negotiate) and are interested in playing the music of AC/DC, they should choose from the band's Brian Johnson era discography.

I have this picture of AC/DC music blasting out on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade

(the whole story behind this "study" is here)

Phthalates and Cargo Cult Science

First it was breast implants, then thimerosal, and now it is phthalates.  Each have been attacked in turn by the junk-science / media / tort law complex.  Nobel Prize-winning chemist William Knowles wrote this week:

Lawmakers -- representing the concern of parents influenced by certain
environmentalists -- are calling for an outright ban of phthalates from
children's toys because of the misguided belief that by exposing
children to toys made with these chemicals we are putting their health
at risk.

Phthalates have a long history of attacks by environmental groups
dating back more than 30 years. Even then babies were of prime
consideration. Few chemicals have undergone such extensive testing and
survived as being safe. In fact, diisononyl phthalate, the most
commonly used phthalate in children's toys, has been subjected to more
than 200 tests....

Today, with no new scientific evidence, we are again challenging
phthalates as dangerous to babies and threatening to ban them. These
are products that have survived the toughest test of all, the test of
time. There is no evidence that babies or anyone else has ever been
harmed by them.

Eliminating phthalates from consumer products would be a true
challenge. Even more worrisome, however, is the notion that any
replacement would ever be able to pass the extreme scrutiny diisononyl
phthalate and other phthalates have.

There is nothing wrong with examining the products our children
come into contact with to be sure they pose no health risks. However,
in this case, it would be a great mistake to ban what has been proven
to be a benign product without some further scientific evidence.

Gun to the Head in Seattle

David Stern is putting a gun to the head of Seattle taxpayers:

NBA commissioner David Stern is putting the screws to Seattle
in his attempts to get the community to provide taxpayer subsidies that
are lucrative enough to keep the team from departing the "Emerald City"
to even greener fields in Oklahoma.

Stern blasts city officials
and the overwhelming majority of voters in the city for passing a law
requiring (gasp!) that any funds used to help build an arena earn the
same rate of return as a treasury bill. "That measure simply means
there is no way city money would ever be used on an arena project,"
Stern said. Effectively, Stern has just confirmed what sports
economists have known all along: taxpayer spending on sports
infrastructure is unlikely to provide significant returns on the

We went through the exact same thing here in Phoenix, with various outsiders and city politicians chiding the voters to voting down taxpayer funded palaces for the Cardinals and Coyotes  (eventually, they found a sucker in the local city of Glendale).  In the past, I have written about sports team and corporate relocations as a prisoners dilemma game.

To see this clearer, lets take the example of Major League Baseball
(MLB).  We all know that cities and states have been massively
subsidizing new baseball stadiums for billionaire team owners.  Lets
for a minute say this never happened - that somehow, the mayors of the
50 largest cities got together in 1960 and made a no-stadium-subsidy
pledge.  First, would MLB still exist?  Sure!  Teams like the Giants
have proven that baseball can work financially in a private park, and
baseball thrived for years with private parks.  OK, would baseball be
in the same cities?  Well, without subsidies, baseball would be in the
largest cities, like New York and LA and Chicago, which is exactly
where they are now.  The odd city here or there might be different,
e.g. Tampa Bay might never have gotten a team, but that would in
retrospect have been a good thing.

The net effect in baseball is the same as it is in every other
industry:  Relocation subsidies, when everyone is playing the game, do
nothing to substantially affect the location of jobs and businesses,
but rather just transfer taxpayer money to business owners and workers.


The Sports Economist writes about this move in the context of another economic game:

Indeed this is a classic example of the time inconsistency problem for
which Finn Kydland and Ed Prescott (my graduate school macro
professor!) won the Nobel Prize in 2004. Stern would like to threaten
Seattle with the permanent loss of their NBA team in order to secure
taxpayer concessions now. But should the team move, the NBA has every
reason to want to back off its previous threats and relocate a team
back into to the area due to the size, location, and income levels of
the city. Even having lost a team, Seattle will likely remain a better
candidate for a successful franchise than smaller and poorer cities
such as New Orleans or Memphis. Certainly Seattle should not fall for
Stern's bluster.

Tipping Anxiety

I am glad I am not the only one who experiences anxiety over when to tip.  And from my experience, this observation by Scott Adams is dead on:

Now let me digress and add some context before I continue. Those of
you who travel a lot know that if you ask a driver about his life, you
never get a story that sounds like this: "Well, I was a drifter and a
hobo for awhile, but then I got this job driving you around. It's the
highlight of my life."

Instead you usually get something more like this: "After I won the
Nobel Prize I became a dissident in my country and had to flee. I
worked as a nuclear weapons inspector for awhile. Then I did some
software programming, which is easy because I have a doctorate degree
in math. Then I invented The Clapper and retired. Now I just do this
job to help out a friend."

Pre-Columbian Genetic Engineering

This is pretty cool, from Charles C. Mann's new book, and quoted by Marginal Revolution:

...the modern species [of maize] had to have been consciously developed by a
small group of breeders who hunted through teosinte strands for plants with
desired traits.  Geneticists from Rutgers University...estimated in 1998 that
determined, aggressive, plan breeders -- which Indians certainly were -- might
have been able to breed maize in as little as a decade...modern maize was the
outcome of a bold act of conscious biological manipulation -- "arguably man's
first, and perhaps his greatest, feat of genetic engineering," [Nina
Federoff]..."To get corn out of teosinte is so -- you couldn't get a grant to do
that now, because it would sound so crazy...Somebody who did that today would
get a Nobel Prize!  If their lab didn't get shut down by Greenpeace, I mean."

Socialism and the Nobel Committee

Congratulations to Edward Prescott, our hometown hero from Arizona State, who shares this years Nobel Prize in Economics.

Why is it that the Nobel committee gives its highest economics prizes to people who consistently put more intellectual nails in the coffin of socialism, then go out of their way to give the "soft" prizes, such as literature and peace, consistently to communists, socialists, and enablers of totalitarianism?


Marginal Revolution has a good roundup on what exactly this economics prize was won for. I should have been more specific when I said "more intellectual nails in the coffin of socialism". The link explains it better, but one argument against free markets is that recessions are proof of market failure and a "better" system would not have them. Prescott and Kydland, among other things, show how:

Recession may be a purely optimal and in a sense desirable response to natural shocks. The idea is not so counter-intuitive as it may seem. Consider Robinson Crusoe on a desert island (I owe this analogy to Tyler). Every day Crusoe ventures out onto the shoals of his island to fish. One day a terrible storm arises and he sits the day out in his hut - Crusoe is unemployed. Another day he wanders out onto the shoals and finds an especially large school of fish so he works especially long hours that day - Crusoe is enjoying a boom economy. Now add into Crusoe's economy some investment goods, nets for example, that take "time to build." A shock on day one will now exert an influence on the following days even if the shock itself goes away - Crusoe begins making the nets when it rains but in order to finish them he continues the next day when it shines. Thus, Crusoe's fish GDP falls for several days in a row - first because of the shock and then because of his choice to build nets, an optimal response to the shock.


This is very timely. Our new Nobel Laureates did a lot of work on short term / long term economic paradoxes. For example, they work a lot with problems such as prescription drug regulation, where people can be made happy in the short term (lower prices) but really unhappy in the long term (via forgone research and therefore fewer new drugs). Interesting given that Kerry/Edwards are advocating just such a short term fix that would lead to long-term disaster. The press made a big deal out of how the Nobel Committee slapped Bush in the face with its Peace Prize to Jimmy Carter. Don't hold your breath waiting for anyone to point this one out.