Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Quick hits

A post in which I take the easy way out and link to a few things that have come across the computer lately:

There have been several news stories the past few days about the result from a University of Chicago that uses functional MRI scans to prove that bullies like to bully. The blog called Cognition and Language Lab takes the time to point us to a Slate post by Daniel Engber which pretty effectively takes the study apart. He points out that the subjects exceed any standard one might apply for bullies; "They're more than bullies; sociopaths might be a better descriptor. Or rapists." The study didn't actually make these kids hurt anyone, it showed them pictures of people in pain. And, perhaps most importantly, the claim that the brain scans demonstrated the conclusion derived is almost certainly wrong. This kind of "test," while interesting, is not conclusive enough to qualify as science (and he provides a link to a Wired article that shows that).

Engber is not satisifed to poke holes in this hyped story, he goes on to discuss some larger flaws in science reporting by the New York Times. It's well worth reading how reporters take press releases and essentially put them wholesale into print.

I was going to write something on this two-week old article by Robert Samuelson (and has anyone ever milked confusion over his identity more effectively), but I never got around to it, then I found that Brad DeLong has already handled it for me. The article, which appeared in Newsweek and the Washington Post (and how does someone get paid twice for the same work?) is remarkably fatuous, claiming that making rich people poorer doesn't help poor people, largely because rich people are magical:
The larger truth is that much of the income of the rich and well-to-do comes from what they do. If they stop doing it, then the income and wealth vanish. No one gets it. It can't be redistributed because it doesn't exist. Everyone's poorer.
That he uses the new poverty of rich Wall Streeters to illustrate this demonstrates the weakness of the argument. The wealth that these geniuses created was the result of paper profits that they converted into real things for their benefit, but the debt that the system took on as a result is being paid for by everyone now. Much of the financial innovation we've seen over the past several years was ultimately unhelpful to society, no matter how personally profitable it might have been.

Mark Thoma points us to a book review by Robert Solow that intelligently discusses risk and economic efficiency, and certainly makes me interested in reading Peter Gosselin's book, High Wire. Even without reading the book, however, Solow makes some good points.

A lot of people have mentioned this rant of a month ago by Rush Limbaugh about the future of the Republican Party. In my opinion, this is a sure way of permanently impairing the party for decades to come; nevertheless, it's indicative of a certain mindset currently afflicting those on the right, the kind of thinking that will propel Sarah Palin into a leadership position.

And a question with no links: why do I find the music of Natasha Bedingfield kind of endearing, and the "music" of Katy Perry so irritating? (And don't get me started on the new Britney Spears "song," Womanizer.)

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