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Archive for January 29th, 2009

IGNORE RUSH LIMBAUGH…

Don’t use his name in public – unless you value that…

Don’t listen to his radio or TV bytes – unless you value that…

He represents the piranha in journalism like Joe Pyne and others before him…

He and others – you know the ones that have all the answers – get more out of your getting upset than you can know.

Haven’t we seen enough of him and the rest of the ‘Bullies of the Beltway” including the one’s you dislike?

They win when you get mad or watch or listen.

War Games had it right…”Stange game.  The only way to win is to not play.

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Reproduced with permission from a private e-mail from Mahesh Johari

Some quick commentary only today.  The stimulus bill that just passed the House contains a “Buy American” clause, which forces materials purchased using funds from the stimulus package to come from American manufacturers.

Intuitively, this sounds both logical and appealing.  If we’re spending our taxpayer dollars, obviously we want those dollars to be spread throughout our economy.  It makes no sense to pass an economic stimulus package that sends our money to China.  So why not mandate that?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple.  The “Buy American” clause has great political appeal but will do nothing but defer job losses and prolong the overall process of adjustment that we are experiencing.

Here’s why: Let’s imagine (for example) a steel manufacturer in the U.S.  The manufacturer is unable to compete globally because their cost structure is too high.  They are facing the prospect of downsizing, of shuttering excess capacity, of laying off workers.  But wait! Here comes the stimulus package to save the day!

Now this uncompetitive sloth of a firm has a new lifeline.  They can sell their overpriced product to the stimulus package.  They can delay downsizing, cost cuts, and layoffs.  So as long as the stimulus package is around, they can keep being inefficient.  Meanwhile their international competitors are becoming ever more efficient, adjusting themselves to true market conditions.  The competitors are getting better.

When the stimulus package expires, the firm will be right back where it began: uncompetitive and burdened with an unsustainable cost structure.  Then what?  Of course the layoffs will come, the downsizing, etc.  Everything that should have happened will happen, just a year or two later.  The part of the stimulus used to overpay for those American materials will essentially have been used for zero long term benefit.  The overall economic adjustment process will be prolonged.

This type of waste why we have to be very careful when it comes to government spending.  Government spending packages tend to waste a lot of money.  Resources that are wasted produce no long term economic benefit.

So what should we do?  We don’t want companies to willy-nilly send our stimulus dollars to China.  Well, at least not when they can get the same stuff in the United States.

As long as we are creating websites and transparency, let’s go all the way!    We could require any purchases of commodity materials from international vendors to be subject to a domestic competitive bid first.  For example, if Caterpillar feels their most economical source for steel is based in Australia, let’s require them to accept competitive bids from American firms BEFORE they are allowed to place the order to the Australian firm.  If we keep the process open and transparent, it will bring the best American firms out to compete at peak efficiency – a very desirable outcome.

We have to be very careful here.  Subsidizing inefficiency is not the path to prosperity.

Related Blog/News Posts (add by Russ not email author, just for further reading):

CNN on Limbaugh and Obama Package

Perfect Storm?

Retailers on the Ropes

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A study attacking use of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) in social neuroscience as flawed and an overselling their results by scientists printed in Nature under the above name and authored by Alison Abbott has touched a nerve in science. [Yes, it is a double entendre…] Social neuroscience is the study of the neuro­biological mechanisms underlying social behavior.

The field frequently uses fMRI to reveal which brain areas are activated while a subject is exposed to specific social interactions or socially relevant content — e.g., situations that may evoke anger, jealousy, spirituality or guilt.

But a lengthy and no-holds-barred paper accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science and already circulating widely on the Internet, claims that many studies misused the statistics, measurement and methodology to make points and support positions what were not supported by the data assessed by a very large team of researchers that understand both the technology and the statistical logic used in almost all science fields.

Some of the papers authored responded with dismay, anger and guile. One is reported to have stated, “This is not the way that scientific discourse should take place.

This is indeed the way scientific discourse needs to take place. I am amazed that Ed Vul and his colleagues had the stones to delve into what others suspected but, for lack of a better term, were too lazy to make the analysis and then question individual authors for their imaging methods. In any event the methods need to be substantiated more now than in the past due to the proliferation of information. If left untested the number and aura created can generate a form of viral buzz that makes some research acceptable before it is validated, reproduced or reviewed by peers. Given the sensationalism with which some of the results are heralded and spring board people to be guests of Dr. Phil of Oprha’s show, the microscope needs to be every where if we as society continue to put science on the same dais as sports and financial logic. Clearly there is always the potential of a McCarthyisque tone now that the White House has turned its attention to other things than pillorying the efforts of science.

The amount of published research from imaging experiments has drastically increased over the last 10 years. Of course, some scientists are very knowledgeable and have a really strong grasp of their methodology, from both the data acquisition end and there are others who use a plug-and-play like approach. An area of the brain lights-up and both types of experimental teams have the opportunity to explain it for the reader what it all means. When this is done in retrospect enormous problems raise their shinny little heads.

The criticized authors complained about the immediate publicity of the criticisms. This may indeed not be the way that scientific discourse took place in the past but the Internet has changed the rules as all in politics and business have come to find out. Now science is seeing that ‘change’ is part of the lab and the lecture hall as well as the fMRI tube.

Questioning findings that were publicized is a requirement of science first and the populace second. There are thousands of journals and more coming every day. Some have yet to earn their chops. Their reviews are the same that get published there and have incestuous relationships like coaches in the NFL. Clearly, for science to not return to the dark ages it must regulate its content or someone else will do it for them and that elicits pictures of Alberto R. Gonzales or Rush Limbaugh or perhaps the former attorney general of New York State, Eliot Spitzer. It seems appropriate that the criticisms be addressed and answered by the same audience. Journals that accept manuscripts according to the chance that they make headlines in the popular press may want to consider a different strategy.

All experimenters better be sure they can explain their data, particularly those who don’t work in the field of brain imaging, and are at the mercy of the reviewers to assure them that those images weren’t made in Photoshop.

Short of that, use the Baloney Detection Kit published here. If the authors appear out to prove something rather than understand something you might want to apply the Kit. In either case, you are going to continue to hear about fMRI and interpreting results for many more years.

Now, you want to know what the real problem is?

There is a lack of empiricism in the questions being asked in the first place so this distraction is the same old pea soup in a kettle that psychologists, philosophers and non-scientists everywhere have wasted the eons away with. No matter how exact, exotic and sophisticated the instrument you use to measure, if what you measure is not observable, empirical and the concept is not falsifiable, it is equivalent to flying in an airplane at 35,000 feet at night and looking out the window for answers to even the big questions like, “What the heck is going on out there?’

Good luck with those subjective approaches… let me know how that pans out.

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