Posts tagged ‘Princeton University’

Princeton Forced to Cave on Due Process

In the continuing battle to give males in college roughly the same due process rights as possessed by a black man in 1930's Alabama, my alma mater was one of the last holdouts fighting the trend.  No longer:

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education wrapped up its investigation of Princeton University's sexual harassment and assault policies. The findings were unsurprising, though still striking: the government essentially accused the university of violating federal anti-discrimination law by extending too much due process to accused students.

Princeton had been one of the last hold-outs on the standard of proof in college rape trials. The university required adjudicators to obtain "clear and convincing" proof that a student was guilty of sexual assault before convicting him. That's too tough, said DOE. As part of its settlement, Princeton is required to lower its evidence standard to "a preponderance of the evidence," which means adjudicators must convict if they are 50.1 percent persuaded by the accuser.

Princeton's old policy was also criticized by DOE for allowing accused students to appeal decisions, but not accusers. Both this practice and the evidence standard were revised under Princeton's new, DOE-compliant policy.

Note that Princeton's former policies on burden of proof and restrictions on double jeopardy roughly mirror the due process rights Americans have in every other context except when they are males accused of sexual assault on a college campus.

I wish Princeton had held out and forced the Administration to test this in court.  I certainly would have donated to support the legal fund.

Trial By Ordeal

Peter Leeson has an article on Medieval trial by ordeal that is getting a lot of attention.

Modern observers have roundly condemned ordeals for being cruel and arbitrary. Ordeals seem to reflect everything that was wrong with the Dark Ages. They're an icon of medieval barbarism and backwardness.

But a closer look suggests something very different: The ordeal system worked surprisingly well. It accurately determined who was guilty and who was innocent, sorting genuine criminals from those who had been wrongly accused. Stranger still, the ordeal system suggests that pervasive superstition can be good for society. Medieval legal systems leveraged citizens' superstitious beliefs through ordeals, making it possible to secure criminal justice where it would have otherwise been impossible to do so. Some superstitions, at least, may evolve and persist for a good reason: They help us accomplish goals we couldn't otherwise accomplish, or accomplish them more cheaply.

I guess I agree with the proposition that pervasive shared superstitions allow the populace to be more easily governed, or more rightly, make it easier for rulers to exercise power over the masses through leverage of shared superstition.  Whether it improves our well-being is an entirely different matter, but for a certain type of intellectual (I have no idea if Leeson is among them) more government power = well-being.  The author cites oath-swearing as a modern superstition that allows us to be governed more easily, but I am not sure that is correct as I think the power of oaths today are driven by peer-pressure and mass response to publicly broken oaths as well as perjury laws.  A better example of modern superstitions that allow easier exercise of power include things like global warming catastrophism.

I am not a medievelist, except as a hobby, but I would offer a couple of rebuttals to specific points he makes:

  • I think he overstates the cost savings of ordeals.  There were prominent folks in the Catholic Church that had doubts about ordeals long before they were banned, and ordeals were typically used as a last result when fact-finding and other methods didn't work.  We have to be careful comparing costs.  One lord gathering evidence for a few days might be, as a percentage of the government's resources, as costly then as a 1-year OJ trial is today.
  • Trials were not broken because they were too costly, they were broken because the law was bad.  There was no such thing as a state prosecutor, so all criminal actions were basically private actions, and they tended to have a rough version of loser pays.  For example, if one accused his neighbor of a capital offense, and the neighbor was acquitted, then the accuser suffered the punishment - ie death.   As a result, the state was left without an effective tool to prosecute crime, and in fact most justice was private justice (ie vengeance of family and friends) and never saw a court, ordeal or other sort.
  • I had a great Medievalist professor at Princeton that I am totally blanking on his name right now [update:  William Jordan, now apparently department head at Princeton].  He used to argue, I think compellingly, that all ordeals had an element of discretion.  Sure, you had to grab the rock in the boiling water, but the real test was that your wounds would be bound and then several days later inspected by the clergy to see if it was festering or not.   This is obviously a judgment call, and thus 1. gave the priests the power to be the effective jury for these actions and 2.  gave the priests a substantial amount of power  (as well as money, since they made good coin charging for ordeals).  [update:  A better summary of Leeson's work says that Leeson is arguing the same thing.  See here]

Update: Intriguingly, from a review of Jordan's book  "the Great Famine," a story I also discuss in my climate videos

The early 1300s must have seemed like the end of the world to the unfortunate inhabitants of Europe: brutally severe winters gave way to lightning storms and torrential, crop-destroying rains in spring, followed by cold summers and then bitter winters again. "The whole world was troubled," wrote one Austrian chronicler; yet that was only the beginning. Princeton University historian William Chester Jordan reconstructs the terrible decades when climatological change led to famine, disease, rampant inflation, and social breakdown across the European continent, a time when every prayer for relief was met by even crueler turns of fate.

Damn those 14th century oil companies!

I'm Glad She Is OK

Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands survived an assassination attempt, though several of her staff and onlookers were not so lucky.

Years ago, my parents actually hosted Queen Beatrix's visit to Houston.   As a libertarian, I don't have much use for hereditary monarchy, but she was quite approachable and helped smooth over my wtf-am-I-doing-here nervousness at the event.  She also paid a visit to Princeton University while I was there, so she's got that going for her too.

More on the Cost of College

I don't know why I can't just move along from Michelle Obama's rant about the terrible cost of her Princeton / Harvard Law degree.  Maybe its because I attended the same schools (different degrees) and my reaction is just so different -- I had a fabulous experience and live in awe that I had such a unique chance to attend these schools, while Michelle Obama seems to experience nothing but misery and resentment.  Granted that I did not have to take on a ton of debt to get these degrees, but I have plenty of friends (and a wife) that did.

This analogy comes to mind:  Let's say Fred needs to buy a piece of earth-moving equipment.  He has the choice of the $20,000 front-end loader that is more than sufficient to most every day tasks, or the $200,000 behemoth, which might be useful if one were opening a strip mine or building a new Panama Canal but is an overkill for many applications.  Fred may lust after the huge monster earth mover, but if he is going to buy it, he better damn well have a big, profitable application for it or he is going to go bankrupt trying to buy it.

So Michelle Obama has a choice of the $20,000 state school undergrad and law degree, which is perfectly serviceable for most applications, or the Princeton/Harvard $200,000 combo, which I can attest will, in the right applications, move a hell of a lot of dirt.  She chooses the $200,000 tool, and then later asks for sympathy because all she ever did with it was some backyard gardening and she wonders why she has trouble paying all her debt.  Duh.  I think the problem here is perfectly obvious to most of us, but instead Obama seeks to blame her problem on some structural flaw in the economy, rather than a poor choice on her part in matching the tool to the job.  In fact, today, she spends a lot of her time going to others who have bought similar $200,000 educations and urging them not to use those tools productively, just like she did not. 

Postscript:
Ironically, two Ivy League schools have actually decided that they want their graduates to be able to afford any career they wish, without fear of student debt, and so endeavor to provide student aid nowadays in the form of grants rather than loans.  One of those is Princeton University, her and my alma mater.

I Don't Think He Understands

The Colorado faculty is going apeshit because the state has proposed making Bruce Benson, a Colorado oilman-Republican, who *gasp* only has a paltry BA degree, head of the University of Colorado system.  To a large extent, folks are going nuts largely because he has different politics than 97% of the faculty and because he has actually done something productive in his life.  However, not being able to say this out loud  (we're a government body so we are not supposed to have political tests, wink wink) his lack of an advanced degree has become the centerpiece of the opposition.

State House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Democrat and CU law school
graduate, declared that Benson would be "the least educated president
ever considered in modern history."

Apparently, his academic record does not live up to University of Colorado standards, which has gleefully employed academic titans like Ward Churchill.  (By the way, isn't it interesting that these folks respect a couple of years at the age of 23 getting a masters in petroleum engineering more than 50 years of demonstrated excellence actually practicing petroleum engineering.)

But here is my advice to Mr. Benson:  Don't take the job.  Mr. Benson, in the private sector, you were probably used to having employees who didn't like you or think you were the best person for your job.  However, you knew that they could either be persuaded by demonstrated performance over time, or else you at least knew that people would work for your goals despite their dislike for you, since they knew that their success lay in the success of the organization as a whole.

University faculty do not behave this way.  They have a completely different set of incentives.  With a job for life, and knowing that no matter how bad the university gets, it will still get state support, they have absolutely no incentive to pull together for the good of the institution or, even less likely, for the well-being of the student body.  There are many exceptions to this; in fact, the exceptions may number more than 50% of the faculty.  But these exceptions do not drive faculty behavior.  Those that drive faculty behavior are the ones that are out for either self-aggrandizement or the promotions of symbols over performance or both. 

There once was a dean at Princeton University I liked and respected named Neil Rudenstine (actually he was Provost when I was there, but who the hell knows what a Provost is?).   Rudenstine was named President of Harvard, and was a good fundraiser (like Benson) and was very hands-off in his management style (as Benson promises to be).  Neil was a good man, but he was broken by the Harvard faculty, driven to what probably was literally a mental breakdown.  And then there was Larry Somers.  He was a very different type of man than Rudenstine -- tougher, more politically experienced.  But he too was broken by the Harvard faculty in an attempt to move that institution perhaps 1% of the way towards where you probably want to move Colorado. 

Don't do it. 

A Skeptical Layman's Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming

I am releasing version 1.0 of my Skeptical Layman's Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming.  You may download the pdf (about 2.7 mb) from the link above or by clicking on the cover photo below.  In the next few days, I will also be posting an online HTML version as well as offering a printed version at cost.

Agw_cover_front_small

Update:  The HTML version is here, and the book can be purchased at cost through this link

The purpose of this paper is to provide a layman's critique
of the Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) theory, and in particular to
challenge the fairly widespread notion that the science and projected
consequences of AGW currently justify massive spending and government
intervention into the world's economies. This paper will show that despite good evidence that global temperatures
are rising and that CO2 can act as a greenhouse gas and help to warm the Earth,
we are a long way from attributing all or much of current warming to man-made
CO2. We are even further away from being
able to accurately project man's impact on future climate, and it is a very
debatable question whether interventions today to reduce CO2 emissions will substantially
improve the world 50 or 100 years from now. 

I am not a trained expert on the climate. I studied physics at Princeton University before switching my
major to mechanical engineering, where I specialized in control theory and
feedback loops, a topic that will be important when we get into the details of
climate change modeling. For over ten
years, my business specialty was market prediction and sales forecasting using
modeling approaches similar to (if far less complex than) those used in climate.

My goal for this paper is not to materially
advance climate science. However, I have
found that the global warming skeptic's case is seldom reported well or in any
depth, and I wanted to have a try at producing a fair reporting of the
skeptic's position.  I have been unhappy
with several of the recent documentaries outlining the skeptic's case, either
because they skipped over a number of critical issues, or because they
over-sold alternate warming hypotheses that are not yet well understood.  To the inevitable charge that as a
non-practitioner, I am not qualified to write this paper --I believe that I am
able to present the current state of the science, with a particular emphasis on
the skeptic's case, at least as well as a good reporter might, and far better
than most reporters actually portray the state of the science. Through this paper I will try to cite sources
as often as possible and provide links for those who are reading this online,
this report is best read as journalism, not as a scientific, meticulously
footnoted paper.

An outline of the paper is as follows:

Forward: What Are My Goals For This Paper

Chapter
1: Management Summary

Chapter
2: Is It OK to be a Skeptic?

Charges
of Bias

The
Climate Trojan Horse

The
Need to Exaggerate

Chapter
3: The Basics of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) Theory

Chapter
4: The historical evidence

The
long view (650,000 years)

The medium view (1000 years)

The
short view (100 years)

Sulfates,
Aerosols, and Dimming

The
Troposphere Dilemma and Urban heat islands

Using
Computer Models to Explain the Past

Chapter
5: The computer models and predicting
the future

The
Dangers in Modeling Complex Systems

Do
Model Outputs Constitute Scientific Proof?

Econometrics and CO2 Forecasts

Climate
Sensitivity and the Role of Positive Feedbacks

Climate
Models had to be aggressively tweaked to match history

Chapter
6: Alternate explanations and models

Solar
Irradiance

Cosmic
Rays

Man's
Land Use

Chapter
7: The effects of global warming

Why
only bad stuff?

Ice
melting / ocean rising

Hurricanes
& Tornados

Temperature
Extremes

Extinction
and Disease

Collapse
of the Gulf Stream and Freezing of Europe

Non-warming
Effects of CO2

Chapter
8:  Kyoto and Policy Alternatives

Kyoto

Cost
of the Solutions vs. the Benefits: Why
Warmer but Richer may be Better than Colder and Poorer

Chapter
9: Rebuttals by AGW Supporters

Please feel free to download and share.  If you find errors, omissions, mistakes, gaps or anything else you would like to comment on, please email me at the address on the cover.  In particular, I have tried to be careful with copyrighted material, but if I have used any of your material without your consent, let me know ASAP and I will remove it.

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