Answers = good data + reasonable thinking

It’s always frustrating to make a case that you are thinking clearly where others are not, but I do think it’s reasonable to suggest that most political arguments are NOT valid because they fail the test above.  Good answers come from taking good data and applying  reasonable thinking to that data.     Bad answers come from faulty reasoning or, more often in my view, simply starting with bad information – most common is to use non-representative or narrowly focused data.

We see this bogus “logic” in practice in the presidential political arena daily as well as in most of the clever propagandistic “documentaries” which in turn are used to support more bad thinking.     For example a right wing talk show whacko will point to Obama’s association with some socialist in his past  and suggest this makes him a socialist, failing to note that Obama’s also been associated with people from center and right wings of politics.    Left wingers will fret over imaginary conspiracy arrangements between the US Government and corporations as they note real corporate/government connections but fail to note the many legal checks on corporate power.

These aren’t the best examples but I think the point is more than sound – if you want good answers you need to stop narrowly focusing on the data that supports what you already believe, and look instead for the broadest representative data samples on which to apply some good reasonable thinking.

The exception to this, though it’s used as the rule for most people, is a *debate* format where one’s  job is to support a point of view as strongly as possible.    Debates almost guarantee that the data used by each side will be  selective, focused on supporting a point of view rather than uncovering truth.    Often, people get so wrapped up in the debating aspect of discussion that they actually start to believe they are seeking truth rather than supporting a point of view.

We cannot escape this challenge – people will keep fighting for their points of view in irrational ways, using bad data and bad reasoning.   But I do think we should all work a lot harder to define the goal of discussion as  finding a fuller, richer truth rather than simply scoring debate points or promoting our own political agenda.

Just don’t  hold your breath waiting for that …

Red Meat Study: Eat a burger, lose 37 minutes of life

A new study from Harvard links red meat consumption to health problems and higher mortality.  Although the negative health stuff has been known for some time, this study is more authoritative in terms of large sample and long study period.  Also it seems to quantify things in such a way that we can get a somewhat legitimate calculation for the life years lost cost of meat eating.  For red meat lovers the results are very discouraging.

WSJ source for red meat stats:

I extended  that to a per hamburger health cost and got 39 years x 365 burger days = 14,235 burgers cost you a year of life, or 8760 hours of life. Thus a single burger costs us 37 minutes of life.

Obviously this measure has a lot of technical flaws, but in general terms I think it should reflect a “real” measure of red meat risk, a risk I’m thinking I’ll be reducing starting right away.

Juan Gris Google Doodle

Juan Gris was an amazing Spanish surrealist painter, Gris is dead now but he’s celebrated via a Google Doodle at   Now, I can’t really say that I’m a huge Gris fan, or even that I knew who Gris was before today, but I CAN say that this will be an interesting experiment in terms of how Google ranks this blog post for the term “Juan Gris”, a fairly obscure reference in the blog literature.     At least until today, when a LOT of blogs will be talking Juan Gris, working the angle of discussing Google doodles.

Violin and Checkerboard, 1913

For more about this amazing painter you really need to go to one of these sites for more information:

Wikipedia:  Early life – Career – Death

Juan Gris – The complete works

Do you ignore the poor or exploit the poor?

There is a small (but I think growing) group of folks who are REALLY working hard to help people.  They neither EXPLOIT the poor nor IGNORE the poor as they seek solutions to the  world’s pressing problems.  

The rest of us – I still put myself in this category but hope to escape it someday – pretty much ignore the world’s pressing problems in favor of pet peeves, political nonsense, and the many usually trivial injustices faced in most of the western wealthy world.     So many  Americans don’t get this because they have not seen much of the rest of the world and/or they are incredibly self absorbed, but ironically the challenge of fretting over nonsense plagues most of us in the western world who collectively have … most of the wealth of the world.

As a reminder for those of you who get all their news from silly personal blogs (!)  local sources, the interwebz, or cable news outlets, the MOST PRESSING problems of the world are mostly related to poverty and include preventable diseases like malaria, bad water, poor sanitation, and lack of health care in developing world  (no, US health care is NOT a pressing global problem!   Just review the health care for the massive majority  living at the average standards in Africa, North Korea, rural India, Pakistan, China or Indonesia.   Studies of costs and benefits clearly indicate that the USA has great quality but wastefully and massively expensive health care system.

In  my opinion we need to seek *reductions in quality and cost* in many sectors of health care here in USA in favor of the huge cost savings that would bring.    For example if you shifted costs from expensive MRIs and CAT scans for the marginally ill to more funding for inner city nutrition programs the *net effect* would probably be a lot more life years saved.     Why?   high tech care is hugely expensive and only marginally helpful in terms of long term outcomes where low tech interventions have much higher return on investment.  Let’s start focusing on ROI, not politically motivated budgeting that favors interest groups over the truly needy.

Much of the world’s population is dying – literally dying – for the conditions we take for granted (and even complain about as inadequate) here in the USA.   To be rational, if we want to “make the world a better place” we need to discuss human needs in a global context rather than the local context.    Obviously there are reasons to discuss these topics within a local context, as when one is working to create better health care for their family, their city, their state, or their country.   But those discussions are selfish ones.   Selfishness is OK, it’s natural, and it will always be part of the human condition, but it’s important that we recognize that what’s good for our family, our state, or our country is NOT likely the optimal solution for the world at large.     I have no good resolution for this  but it always frustrates me how people tend to think the systems that work best for them  are the ones that are best.    That would be nice, but it’s almost never the case.     This extends broadly to other things as well.    There’s generally opposition to higher taxes in the private sector and support for higher taxes in sectors where taxes are paying the salaries.

Back to the point here:  Aside from that small group of missionaries, NGO workers, and a few others most of the rest of us simply IGNORE the poor.

For me, ignoring the poor is the pressing issue rather than exploitation.  In fact I think this point is missed by many of the amazing, wonderful folks who work in NGOs that do so much to fight poverty.    It’s easy to point at the wealthy and think they are “sucking up” resources that would go to the poor rather than the more accurate view that they are keeping most of the EXTRA wealth they created through innovation and entrepreneurship, not exploitation.    I realize this is a sweeping assumption and needs data, so if you have ideas about how to measure this objectively I’m very interested.

Definitions and symantics challenge us here.   For some Apple is exploiting those who work in the iPhone factories because they make a fraction of what they’d make in USA, where for others Apple is helping the poor by providing better jobs than they’d have without an iPhone factory.     I lean strongly to the latter view but recognize that this is a complicated subject, relating to the relationship of how to combine wealth creation with better wealth distribution.     Right wingers typically ignore inequality and distribution issues in favor of maximizing production while left wingers typically see economics as zero sum game and thus only pay attention to wealth distribution.    Of course there is no “right answer”, but we should always be looking to find a “better way” to combine the challenges of wealth creation and distribution.

…. more coming on my favorite topic …  please chime in ! ….

Blue Brain Project Progress …

Arguably the world’s most significant science project along with DARPA SyNAPSE, Blue Brain is working to create a functioning NeoCortical column (think “how we think”) simulation via a supercomputer. Progress seems pretty steady although DARPA SyNAPSE has been getting a lot more press and money lately.