Friday, September 29, 2006

On Peer Review

When a distinguished professor like Philip Johnson or Michael Behe makes comments contrary to Darwinian theory, one can count on the response "what have they ever published in a peer reviewed biological journal?" Unfortunately, most do NOT understand that this is simply the logical fallacy called "appeal to authority," and thus I--having been on both sides of the peer review process--feel somewhat compelled to explain exactly why "peer review" has more or less the value of a Reichsmark in Weimar Germany.

In a nutshell, peer review guarantees nothing because it's an inherently political process, and this is especially so in politically charged areas like biology. What is unpopular is often excluded from peer reviewed journals. I've seen it happen. On the other hand, garbage research is often included in peer reviewed journals simply due to professional connections. I've seen that happen, too.

A classic case of the failure of peer review is shown in the recent government "study" of research linking abortion with breast cancer. 28 peer reviewed studies were reviewed by 100 workers in the field, and 16 of them were thrown out based on a perceived methodological error. What we clearly have here is two sets of peer review directly contradicting each other--peers selected by the same group of researchers, no less.

Whatever side of the debate one falls upon, one must concede that peer review is decidedly fallible, and all the more so as the issue becomes politically charged. Insisting on "peer review" instead of presenting evidence is a sad substitute for argument.

A way to reduce tuition costs

Evidently, Education Secretary Spellings has an interesting plan to reduce college tuition costs and make education more accessible; tracking the jobs and wages of college graduates (by college) over time. The Detroit News points out that this is idiotic from a bureaucratic point of view, as it would put yet another layer of bureaucracy (and more cost) into the educational process.

More importantly, it's not their job, and others are quite willing to do this. Fraternities have pointed out for years that their members have a leg up in employment--and if Harvard is superior to the U. of Southern N. Dakota at Hoople in various regards, they'd be foolish not to put together evidence that proves their point. (they'll lose at musicolology, of course)

No, if the government wants to reduce the cost of higher education, all it needs to do is stop fueling the fire with student loan guarantees and grants. If higher education is a good deal, colleges will provide the evidence to bankers, who will in turn underwrite those loans. If not, they won't.

On another note, Pat Buchanan has a very interesting column on how our tax system effectively subsidizes imports and penalizes domestic manufacturing. I don't agree with everything Pat says, but if he's right here, he's got a very good point.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Necessary and sufficient

Although I like to pretend to be one on TV, I am by no means a practiced logician. However, I cherish the bits and pieces that I've learned, and one of those is that any position has what is called "necessary and sufficient" conditions to be accepted or rejected. In a nutshell, what this means is that one does not need to know "all of the evidence" before arriving at a conclusion about a subject. One merely needs to know, with confidence, certain points.

For example, many will argue that when one must know all about the formative years of a criminal to adequately render judgement. It is absolutely false; all that is necessary is to demonstrate that a crime was committed by that man while of sound mind and without provocation. We need not go into how his clothes were stolen when he was 11 while skinny-dipping.

In a similar vein, evolutionists might argue that one must understand all the complexities of radioisotope dating before judging its effectiveness. Again, horsefeathers; all that is necessary is to view a tree growing through ten layers of rock spanning (according to the method) tens or hundreds of millions of years. If trees do not live in rocks, or for millions of years, we must admit some weakness in radioisotope dating. We do not need to specify what it is, or suggest an alternative.

All too often, we get bogged down in the infinite details of a situation, to the point that we fail to discover what is necessary and sufficient. Let's stop buying "big mud tires" and instead walk around the marsh.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Reasons not to trust in government

Not that my august readers need this, but a couple of things come to mind in reasons not to trust government for a solution to life's problems.

1. The recent hullabaloo about a classified intelligence report claiming that the situation has gotten worse since we invaded Iraq. Whether the report is true or false, any politician worth his salt ought to be calling for the heads of those who broke the law by releasing this report, not making political hay out of it.

2. "Means testing" for government "charity" programs tends to promote the very behaviors (not saving, not working) that tend to result in a need for charity.

As Ronaldus Maximus noted, the most terrifying words in the universe are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Top 10 reasons.. join your church's visitation/outreach efforts. I had the pleasure this weekend of helping Bible Baptist Church of Elk River, MN in canvassing efforts to let that community know about this new work. Here is a lighthearted list of reasons to join that--apart from saving souls.

1. Your doctor told you to take nice long walks, but your wife frittered away the greens fee on frivolities like groceries.

2. Your doctor told you to take nice long walks, but your husband frittered away the greens fee at Home Depot.

3. That green roofed building at exit 207.

4. You might find a nice new restaurant while canvassing. (Daddy-O's diner downtown, to be specific)

5. You might find a nice butcher shop while canvassing.

6. Nursery workers won't get their "diaper changing fix" (oops, "baby fix") if we don't reach out to new families.

7. More people in the pews means lower heating bills in the winter.

8. You memorized the Saturday morning cartoons decades ago, and don't want your children to do the same.

9. Wonderful coffee and scones before setting out. The pastor's belt isn't just a fence on a graveyard for fried chicken, but rather for his wife's cooking too!

10. Finally a serious one; if you want a heart for people, there is no substitute for taking a walk through the neighborhoods where they live and work.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Another reason to consider becoming an entrepreneur...

...was given by ABC News in an article today. More or less, about half of graduate students--and more than half in business and hard science/engineering--feel that it is "standard practice" to cheat in what they do.

It's truly scary to think that many of these guys are going to end up doing quality assurance in medical or other critical applications. "We'll just fudge this a little bit and it certainly won't make any difference...."

Yeah, right.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Another surreal piece from World Magazine

One might not believe it from reading my weblog, but ordinarily I have a lot of kind things to say about World Magazine. Writers such as Marvin Olasky, Joel Belz, Gene Edward Veith, and Andree' Seu have really revolutionized my worldview.

The most recent issue, on the other hand, has a very, um, "interesting" interview with Randall Balmer, a professor at Barnard College who evidently believes that the state has a crucial role to play in charity, that the Social Security trust fund was somehow diverted or stolen from the program, and that tax cuts predominantly benefit the rich.

While I'm certainly happy to engage those of other opinions, I think it's pretty sad that Dr. Olasky doesn't really see fit to confront Dr. Balmer with reality. Ask him exactly what kind of "lock box" would generate interest like the Social Security trust fund. Ask him how the workers who found jobs due to the Reagan recovery qualify as the "rich" who "overwhelmingly benefited" from those tax cuts. Ask where the Bible tells the state to become involved in charity.

Again, yes, we need to engage those of other opinions. The linked article, however, clearly demonstrates how we need to respond when opinions clearly at variance with known facts are presented. There are an awful lot of people who take this sort of thing seriously simply because the facts are not presented.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Joys of parenthood

I recently taught my girls the fine art of mock gun battles using the Dole banana as a weapon. I'm sure that the Brady Campaign would approve.

They're doing fine on the shooting, but the falling down while pretending to be shot still needs some work, as does remembering that they "need" to reload. Still, it was a good evening's fun.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Did you ever wonder

...where Samson got that donkey's jawbone? Think about it; it was a fresh jawbone, meaning that it'd been killed recently. However, they were in Israel, where donkeyflesh isn't exactly kosher, and the donkey also isn't an animal suited to battle. So we can infer that Israelites didn't provide this weapon for Samson, or suffer its loss in a skirmish with the Philistines.

That leaves one alternative: the animal was probably killed by the Philistines for either food, or as a sacrifice. In other words, the army that thought to kill Samson probably ended up giving him the weapon he used to kill them instead.

What a delicious irony--far better than donkeyflesh, I dare say.

The sin of alogicality

One of the major tragedies of modern "fundagelicalism" is what the head of my church's seminary calls "alogicality"; the refusal to apply the principles of logic to the study of theology. On the surface, it almost sounds reasonable; doesn't Paul, after all, exhort us to reject the wisdom of this world? Should we not then reject even the tools of the pagan philosopher?

Of course, the answer is "no." "Logic" itself is derived from the Greek "Logos," or "Word". If we are to be people of the Word, do we not need to use logic?

In other words, the tragedy of "alogicality" is to confuse the process of logic with the false starting points used by the pagans. Or as we way today, "garbage in, garbage out."

Friday, September 08, 2006

How do I? to end monstrous factories, offshoring, fiat money, national insecurity, and the debt based economy? We could insist on a political solution, but since when can we expect that the majority of politicians will voluntarily relinquish the power they have over our lives?

No, if we want to end fiat money and the debt based economy, we need to get out of debt. Christians could reduce the money supply about 20-30% if they just did this. Think that might get Bernanke's attention?

National security issues? Let's remind the next Yamamoto that there is indeed a rifle behind every blade of grass, OK?

Outsourcing? My family is learning that you can actually beat Chinese prices and quality if you do some things yourself. We haven't figured out how to do computers yet, but Blumenkinder Heirloom Sewing did just receive its first shipment of fine fabrics today (website may come soon) . Anybody need to buy white broadcloth, floral batiste, or a wonderful 100% cotton corduroy, perfect for smocking?

What about...?

the fact that large portions of manufactured goods are made in large factories, in China by more or less slave labor, national security issues when we can't make our own, fiat currency, fractional reserve banking and a debt-based economy?

Are these characteristic of capitalism, or of mercantilism?

My answer; neither. Some of this is inherent in any economic system, and the rest is classic statism--of which mercantilism, fascism, socialism and communism are variants.

Regarding "offshoring" and fractional reserve banking, you'll find those everywhere except where the state explicitly bans them. This is where Adam Smith and his followers are at their best, pointing out that certain things are, economically speaking, nearly inevitable. Banks loan out money, and manufacturers don't like to spend more money than they need to.

Along these lines, bigger factories occur whenever transportation is cheap and economies of scale are to be had. They're associated with mercantilism and socialism because these "isms" tend to subsidize transportation.

Worthless fiat money and debt based economies have been implemented by all statists (mercantilists, totalitarians, kings, socialists, fascists, etc..) since paper money was invented by the Chinese, but I'd suggest that the Keynesian debt-based economy is connected primarily with socialism.

And we still do have hints of mercantilism in our economy today. Whenever we read about a trade deficit, we are absorbing the mercantilist arguments that Smith and Bastiat did their best to refute. Subsidies for industries are also mercantilist policy--though also socialist. They are, again, both forms of statism.

How to counteract these problems? Next post.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Capitalism, or mercantilism?

I've been having an interesting discussion with David about whether the industrial expansion (and personal liberty contraction) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are the result of capitalism or mercantilism. He's quite right that the "anything for a buck" ethic that permeated certain parts of the "gilded age" did huge damage to the prior culture of small businesses and farms. Real quality has trouble competing with authentic-looking forgeries, as anyone who competes with Wal-Mart knows all too well.

However, he's also absorbed the same lesson we were all told in school; that the excesses of the gilded age were representative of capitalism, and that the 20th century shift to mild socialism occurred due to the excesses of capitalism. Unfortunately, this explanation of history is one of the most egregious examples of bait & switch that I can think of.

Let's start with definitions. "Capitalism" is an economic system based on free markets and minimal government intervention. "Mercantilism" is an economic system where governments make intensive use of tariffs, subsidies, and colonization to create markets for industrial goods and achieve a positive trade balance.

The bait is obvious; the late 19th century featured, at least in comparison to today, very few of the governmental regulations which today amount to a 14% or so tax on all business conducted here. So at least at a superficial level, the late 19th century does appear to be a great example of laissez faire capitalism.

Now the switch; the late 19th century also featured a 45% tariff, massive subsidies of railroads and other enterprises, and aggressive colonization of the Great Plains, Mexico (U.S. Southwest), and the South. Emphasis was placed (and remains to this day) on the balance of trade.

In other words, government policy of the time (which continued to the mid-20th century) was strongly mercantilist, not capitalist.

Now let us consider the case of a factory owner in New England. Does it matter how greedy or wicked he is if the means to get his product to consumers in Iowa, Alabama, and so on is more expensive than manufacturing that item locally, or importing it from England?

One sees rather quickly that the key element in the formation of huge factories in the U.S. is not capitalism, but rather the mercantilist ethic which subsidized internal transportation (railroads) and levied huge tariffs on foreign competition. What a tragedy that this horrendous bait & switch by Marxist historians promotes the problem (government involvement) and slanders the solution (free markets).

And how to fight "anything for a buck" and monstrous factories? Learn to recognize junk, and stop buying it. Corporate product managers can't resist the urge to cut another penny from the bill of materials, and hence the products made by the millions tend to be junk.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A note about gossip

The much ballyhooed "Valerie Plane/Joe Wilson" case illustrates brilliantly what is wrong with Washington, DC's culture of gossip. Far too often, denizens of that foul city decide that it's their right to share "private" or even "classified" information with the Washington Post or New York Times to achieve their policy objectives--never mind what the fallout might be in other peoples' lives, or to the nation or world as a whole.

In this case, Dick Armitage's gossip (and he even admits that it was!) cost journalists years of their lives in jail, wasted tens of millions of dollars in special prosecutors' fees, and trashed the reputations and livelihoods of many public servants. If this is how DC intends to attract good men, they need to consider another strategy.

What's really crazy: Armitage was hired despite a long and admitted history of such gossip, going back to Iran-Contra in the 1980s.

What's crazy and funny: I was banned from another weblog because I pointed out that to use the "Washington Gossip" (as the papers refer to it) was, indeed, the same sin referred to in Proverbs.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yet another thing that I cannot explain... how many people think that government, which derives its entire income from taxation and produces no useful goods or services, can somehow create prosperity for its citizens more or less ex nihilo (out of nothing).

Even more puzzling than the idea that government can create things ex nihilo is the idea that God cannot, a concept shared by all too many, even many who claim His name. Far too many of us trust Uncle Sam, but not our Lord, for our daily bread.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Real unity

My church operates a seminary, and each Friday, the president of the seminary sends out a note "In the Nick of Time." This week's edition exegetes the parable of the flock and the fold in John 9, and points out that those in the fold are kept by an external force--the walls and gate of the sheepfold--while the flock is kept together by the voice of the Shepherd. The first is external, the second internal.

Dr. Bauder ends with a plea; if we desire unity, let us not talk about unity, but let us talk about and desire Christ. In doing so, we shall attain real unity.