A Hot Topic (Cont.)

Other shoes continue to drop in the ongoing story about the activities of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which is regularly cited as one of the world’s leading proponents of the global warming hypothesis.  I’ve previously noted the curious e-mails obtained as a result of a criminal computer hacking episode.  Now the CRU has admitted that much of the raw data that it accumulated, and that formed the basis for its global warming findings, have been discarded, purportedly due to lack of storage space.   The linked article reports that a statement on the CRU’s website states that, while the raw data has been discarded, the CRU has retained what it calls its “value-added (quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

This decision seems extraordinarily unscientific to me.  One of the hallmarks of the scientific method, as I understand it, is to collect data based on tests, experiments, or other procedures, publish the data, and then let scientists elsewhere see whether they can recreate those results by following the identified procedures.  If other scientists can’t recreate the results reportedly obtained by a claimed procedure to achieve “cold fusion,” for example, they can legitimately question the legitimacy of the underlying study that claimed those results.  By discarding the raw data and keeping only data that has been modified in some way — whatever “quality controlled and homogenised” might mean — the CRU scientists have made it impossible to verify, or disprove, their claims.  If storage space was really that scarce, why would you discard the original data rather than the modified data?

I think scientists generally have credibility with the public not just because they are viewed as smarter than the average citizens, but also because they are viewed as neutral, objective observers who are engaged in an abstract quest for truth.   The CRU episode shows just how far that perception is from the reality of modern science — at least as it is practiced by some “scientists.”  When scientists discard raw data, refuse to share other data, and attempt to quash dissenting views, they are not acting as scientists but as proponents of a particular position.  They don’t deserve the credibility that we normally assign to scientific views — and others are coming to that same conclusion.

I hope that our government at least recognizes that this incident raises fundamental credibility issues that cannot be ignored.  Before we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to reshape our economy and our energy infrastructure in an effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are the supposed cause of climate change under the global warming hypothesis, which should at least insist that the scientific basis for that decision be the product of true science — where data is openly and completely published, opposing views are fully and fairly heard, and hypotheses are tested and verified.  Until that happens, we are building our policies on faith, not science.

Cash For Christmas?

A relatively new book, entitled Scroogenomics:Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, argues that holiday shopping is wealth destroying because we end up buying presents people don’t want.  The author, Joel Waldfogel, is an economist who makes a classic economics argument — that resources are most wisely allocated by people who make decisions for themselves, in view of their specific needs.  He argues that the farther you get from people you really know — spouses and immediate family — and into the realm of nieces, nephews, co-workers, and the like, the more likely you are to buy something ill-considered that is left unused.  Gift cards aren’t the most efficient response to this problem, either, because about 10 percent of gift cards never get redeemed.  An interview with the author is here.

Let’s face it, though — the Seinfeld episode hit the nail on the head.  Giving cash for Christmas, or for a birthday, is widely viewed as a cold, thoughtless, last-minute gift.  This perception seems a bit unfair to me.  I can honestly say that every time I’ve received a check for a birthday or a holiday I have used the money with grateful appreciation.  I can’t say the same for the tangible gifts I’ve received — and I know that, over the years, I’ve picked out many real clunkers for friends and loved ones, too.

The only drawback to giving cash, in my view, is a non-economic one.  I feel good when I think about what Kish and the boys might want for Christmas and then actually buy presents for them.  I don’t get that feeling by writing a check.  But maybe I can get that feeling by limiting my feel-good, but otherwise wealth-destroying, purchases to a few carefully considered stocking stuffers.

Not Smart (Cont.)

I’ve written before on the enormous losses Harvard recently sustained as a result of the investments of its endowment funds and capital accounts.   The Boston Globe has now published an article on how the losses happened.  It’s a familiar story and good lesson for anyone managing their 401(k) account.  People made aggressive investments notwithstanding cautions about risks, the aggressive investments produced very strong returns for a time, and the investment decisionmakers overlooked the risks, focused on the returns, and then took an uppercut when the markets went south.  They forgot the basic questions all investors should ask:  what am I looking to achieve with my account, and how much risk am I willing to take to try to achieve that goal?  These questions should be asked regularly — not just when the markets experience a downturn.

Stalwart Opposition

Although Ohio Issue 3, which amended the Ohio Constitution to allow for the building of casinos in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo, was approved by voters statewide, it was strongly rejected by voters in central Ohio.  Now, local politicians are trying to figure out what they can do to try to prevent the casino from being located in the Columbus Arena District, a new, upscale, family-friendly area located just north of downtown.  Today’s Columbus Dispatch has an editorial applauding those efforts.

It will be interesting to see what local leaders do to try to avoid the construction of a casino in the location that the Constitution now identifies as the sole, lawful location for a casino in Columbus.  Withhold water and sewer services?  Decline to improve roads and infrastructure?  Tell the police not to patrol in the vicinity of the casino?  Develop new taxing and fee-based ordinances to make operating the casino much less lucrative?  Such initiatives, if pursued, seem likely to set up an interesting legal battle between the “home rule” powers of municipalities like Columbus and the effect of an unprecedented state constitutional amendment.

A Hot Topic (Cont.)

The fallout continues from the data breach that led to the release of e-mail exchanges between climate scientists about global warming dataThis New York Times piece indicates that the controversy about the e-mails, and their true meaning as it relates to the science of global warming, has had broad repercussions. 

Hacking into a computer is a criminal act which should not be condoned.  However, if this particular criminal act results in greater access to raw global warming data, and increased scientific debate about that data and its true meaning, then it has had some positive effect.  Science should not be a black box.  If global warming is to be used as a basis for arguing that western countries like the United States should make enormous and costly changes to their economies and activities, it obviously should be the subject of robust and skeptical discussion.  If climate change scientists aren’t willing to engage in such debate, that says something about their methods, practices, and status as scientists.  To paraphrase Harry Truman, if climate change scientists can’t stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen.


Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes (Cont.)

It’s amazing how some Christmas cookie recipes, and other holiday treats, are so well-received that they become an integral part of the family traditions.  It gets to the point where you can’t really imagine Christmas without a plate of the particular cookies in the kitchen, ready to be gobbled down during A Charlie Brown Christmas and washed down with cold glass of milk.

When I was growing up, so it was with sugar cookies, cut out into holiday shapes and iced with the hard icing you get when you mix confectioner’s sugar and a few drops of milk and then brighten the mixture up with a few drops of food coloring.  Here is the recipe for that Webnerhouse classic.

Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter, softened; 1 cup granulated sugar; 1 large egg; 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla; 3 cups all-purpose flour; 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat together butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla, mix.  Add flour and baking powder gradually.   Continue to mix with mixer until combined, even if mix seems dry. Divide the dough into four parts, shape into four circles, wrap with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for an hour or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease sheet pan with Crisco.  Roll out dough with rolling pin, lightly dusting with flour.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place on baking pans.  Bake for 7 minutes or until edges of cookies are light brown.  Remove from oven, cool briefly, then put on plate.  Ice after completely cool.

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes (Cont.)

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes (Cont.)

Calling For Christmas Cookie Recipes


The developing story about a Virginia couple that apparently “gatecrashed” the White House state dinner for the Prime Minister of India is pretty disturbing.  According to the new reports, the couple did not have an invitation but showed up at the event in their formal wear, went through screening, and had their pictures taken with President Obama and Vice President Biden.  Of course, this being modern America, we now learn that the woman in the couple has dreams of being on some kind of reality show about wealthy housewives in D.C.

Fortunately, nothing bad happened, other than a bit of embarrassment.  Still, this is not just a weird story about a mischievous prank.  If I were chief of staff for the President I would make sure that some heads rolled.  The Secret Service has one of the most important jobs in the federal government, and the notion that individuals without an invitation could crash a scheduled event — where the security undoubtedly was planned and set up far in advance — is just unacceptable.  It suggests lapses in procedure and general incompetence that can only encourage other people, with different potential goals, to try similar stunts. President Obama has a tough enough job without having to worry about whether security screenings are being done properly and strangers are roaming the White House.