December 19, 2014

Much Knowledge Results from Mistaken Hypotheses



(p. 239) If we were to eliminate from science all the great discoveries that had come about as the result of mistaken hypotheses or fluky experimental data, we would be lacking half of what we now know (or think we know). --NATHAN KLINE, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIST


Source:

Nathan Kline as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 18, 2014

The Washing Machine Is a Great Bulwark of Women's Liberation



(p. C9) If the past is foreign country because they do things differently there, we're lucky to have such a knowledgeable cicerone as Ruth Goodman.


. . .


"I like to put time and effort into studying the objects and tools that people made and used, and I like to try methods and approaches out for myself," she writes in "How to Be a Victorian." This sounds straightforward enough but hardly hints at the leaps of imaginative empathy the author is so good at: When she visits a museum to examine a Victorian farm worker's wool coat, for example, she sees both the husband "who sweated and left stains on his clothes, who physically felt the cold" and the wife who "spent hours carefully and neatly sewing up the tear."

Ms. Goodman observes that the wife's technique for repair matches one taught in working-class textbooks, a fact that raises questions in her mind. "How widespread was such needlework education, and was it likely to have been women who carried out such repairs?" she wonders. "If it takes me over an hour to do the work, would my Victorian forebears have been quicker? When would they have fitted such a chore into their day?" That little rip in the man's coat, it turns out, is like a tiny window into "the great sweeps of political and economic life" that in turn "bring us back to the personal." Trade disruptions in textiles during the American Civil War, for instance, "pushed up the price of the labourer's coat, making that repair more necessary."


. . .


Many, many things about daily life are far better now: "My own historical laundry experiences have led me to see the powered washing machine as one of the great bulwarks of women's liberation, an invention that can sit alongside contraception and the vote."



For the full review, see:

ALEXANDRA KIMBALL. "Living Like a Queen; You might get used to using soot to brush your teeth. But steel corsets? Never." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 4, 2014): C9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 3, 2014, and has the title "Book Review: 'How to Be a Victorian" by Ruth Goodman; You might get used to using soot to brush your teeth. But steel corsets? Never.")


The book under review is:

Goodman, Ruth. How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014.






December 17, 2014

Most Venture Capital Firms Do Not Back "Ambitious, Long-Shot Projects"



(p. B4) Successful venture capitalism is about managing risk, so partners at most VC firms invest in businesses they think will become viable, or at least worthy of an acquisition, in the shortest time possible.

That doesn't leave much appetite among VCs for startups working on ambitious, long-shot projects, the sort that require basic research, and that's a shame.



For the full commentary, see:

CHRISTOPHER MIMS. "KEYWORDS; Our Last Great Hope: Venture Capital." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Oct. 21, 2014): B1 & B4.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 20, 2014, and the title "KEYWORDS; Humanity's Last Great Hope: Venture Capitalists.")






December 16, 2014

"People Don't Like Open Plans"



(p. A1) Originally conceived in 1950s Germany, the open-plan office has migrated from tech start-ups to advertising agencies, architecture firms and even city governments. Now it has reached what is perhaps its most unlikely frontier yet: book publishing.

Few industries seem as uniquely ill suited to the concept. The process of acquiring, editing and publishing books is rife with moments requiring privacy and quiet concentration. There are the sensitive negotiations with agents; the wooing of prospective authors; the poring over of manuscripts.


. . .


(p. B6) Even as the walls of America's workplaces continue to come crashing down, leaving only a handful of holdouts -- like corporate law firms -- a number of recent studies have been critical of the effects of open-plan offices on both the productivity and happiness of cube dwellers.

"The evidence against open-plan offices is mounting," said Nikil Saval, the author of "Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace." "The idea is that these offices encourage collaboration and serendipitous encounters. But there's not a lot of evidence behind these claims. Whereas there is a lot of evidence that people don't like open plans."

The notion of cookie-cutter cubicles is especially anathema to a certain breed of editors who see themselves more as men and women of letters than they do as businesspeople.

"It's a world of words that we're working towards, not an intellectual sweatshop," said Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux and an opponent of open-plan offices.

For book editors, offices provide more than just privacy. They like to fill the bookcases inside with titles that they've published, making for a kind of literary trophy case to impress visitors.



For the full story, see:

JONATHAN MAHLER. "Cubicles Rise in a Brave New World of Publishing." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")


The Saval book is:

Saval, Nikil. Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace. New York: Doubleday, 2014.






December 15, 2014

"The World Is Not Only Stranger than We Imagine, It Is Stranger than We Can Imagine"



(p. 238) The British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane once commented, "The world is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." This famous quote is often used to support the notion that the mysteries of the universe are beyond our understanding. Here is another way to interpret his insight: Because so much is out there that is beyond our imagination, it is likely that we will discover new truths only when we accidentally stumble upon them. Development can then proceed apace.


Source:

Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.

(Note: I have corrected a typo in the Haldane quote. Meyers mistakenly has "that" for the second "than.")






December 14, 2014

"What Valuable Company Is Nobody Building?"



(p. A15) Peter Thiel is larger than life even for a Silicon Valley billionaire. He co-founded PayPal, was the first investor in Facebook , and funded LinkedIn, Spotify, SpaceX and Airbnb. Now he has written a much-needed explanation of the information economy, masquerading as a breezy how-to book for entrepreneurs. "Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future" is based on lectures Mr. Thiel gave at Stanford.

He hopes more entrepreneurs will focus on big ideas for health, energy and transportation; his venture firm's tag line is "They promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters," a reference to Twitter. His explanation of innovation is also a primer on how free markets work. He encourages entrepreneurs to ask: "What valuable company is nobody building?"



For the full commentary, see:

L. GORDON CROVITZ. "INFORMATION AGE; Three Cheers for 'Creative Monopolies'." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Oct. 13, 2014): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 12, 2014.)


The book praised in the passage quoted above is:

Thiel, Peter, and Blake Masters. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. New York: Crown Business, 2014.






December 13, 2014

Economic Hope Cures Terrorism



(p. C1) As the U.S. moves into a new theater of the war on terror, it will miss its best chance to beat back Islamic State and other radical groups in the Middle East if it doesn't deploy a crucial but little-used weapon: an aggressive agenda for economic empowerment. Right now, all we hear about are airstrikes and military maneuvers--which is to be expected when facing down thugs bent on mayhem and destruction.

But if the goal is not only to degrade what President Barack Obama rightly calls Islamic State's "network of death" but to make it impossible for radical leaders to recruit terrorists in the first place, the West must learn a simple lesson: Economic hope is the only way to win the battle for the constituencies on which terrorist groups feed.

I know something about this. A generation ago, much of Latin America was in turmoil. By 1990, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization called Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path, had seized control of most of my home country, Peru, where I served as the president's principal adviser. Fashionable opinion held that the people rebelling were the impoverished or underemployed wage slaves of Latin America, that capitalism couldn't work outside the West and that Latin cultures didn't really understand market economics.

The conventional wisdom proved to be wrong, however. Reforms in Peru gave indigenous entrepreneurs and farmers control over their assets and a new, more accessible legal framework in which to run businesses, make contracts and borrow--spurring an unprecedented rise in living standards.



For the full commentary, see:

HERNANDO DE SOTO. "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment and entrepreneurship to give the Arab world another path." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 11, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 10, 2014, and the title "The Capitalist Cure for Terrorism; Military might alone won't defeat Islamic State and its ilk. The U.S. needs to promote economic empowerment.")


Soto's masterpiece is:

Soto, Hernando de. The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World. New York: Basic Books, 1989.






December 12, 2014

Scientists Seriously Discuss Geoengineering Solutions to Global Warming



(p. A1) UTRECHT, the Netherlands -- The solution to global warming, Olaf Schuiling says, lies beneath our feet.

For Dr. Schuiling, a retired geochemist, climate salvation would come in the form of olivine, a green-tinted mineral found in abundance around the world. When exposed to the elements, it slowly takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Olivine has been doing this naturally for billions of years, but Dr. Schuiling wants to speed up the process by spreading it on fields and beaches and using it for dikes, pathways, even sandboxes. Sprinkle enough of the crushed rock around, he says, and it will eventually remove enough CO2 to slow the rise in global temperatures.

"Let the earth help us to save the earth," said Dr. Schuiling, who has been pursuing the idea single-mindedly for several decades and at 82 is still writing papers on the subject from his cluttered office at the University of Utrecht.

Once considered the stuff of wild-eyed fantasies, such ideas for countering climate change -- known as geoengineering solutions, because they intentionally manipulate nature -- are now being discussed seriously by scientists.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Climate Cures Seeking to Tap Nature's Power." The New York Times (Mon., NOV. 10, 2014): A1 & A6.

(Note: italics in original; ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date NOV. 9, 2014, and has the title "Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature's Path.")






December 11, 2014

Alertness to What Problem Can Be Solved with Unexpected Results



(p. 208) "Every scientist must occasionally turn around and ask not merely, 'How can I solve this problem?' but, 'Now that I have come to a result, what problem have I solved?" This use of reverse questions is of tremendous value precisely at the deepest parts of science."--NORBERT WIENER, INVENTION:THE CARE AND FEEDING OF IDEAS


Source:

Norbert Wiener as quoted in Meyers, Morton A. Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2007.






December 10, 2014

Churchill Was More than an Epiphenomenon



(p. C2) It is easy to see why so many historians and historiographers have taken the Tolstoyan line, that the story of humanity isn't the story of great people and shining deeds. It has been fashionable to say that those so-called great men and women are just epiphenomena, meretricious bubbles on the vast tides of social history. The real story, on this view, is about deep economic forces, technological advances, changes in the price of sorghum, the overwhelming weight of an infinite number of mundane human actions.

The story of Winston Churchill is a pretty withering retort to all that malarkey.



For the full essay, see:

BORIS JOHNSON. "He Still Stands Alone." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 8, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date Nov. 7, 2014, and has the title "Churchill Still Stands Alone.")


The passage quoted above is related to Johnson's book:

Johnson, Boris. The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. New York: Riverhead, 2014.









Eight Most Recent Comments:



Dave Megan said:

Merging of companies is always better when they have a better goal. It will give better service for the public.



Ed Rector said:

The 'quickened pace of production' of the early Reagan years was directly attributable to RR's massive deficit spending. The national debt almost tripled under the watch of St. Ronnie. BO will have to work overtime to even approach this record of accomplishment.



Aaron said:

The last two paragraphs comport perfectly with what Paul Tough describes in a book you posted on a few months ago, "How Children Succeed." Tough advocates that a stable, loving relationship between kids and their parents, especially in the first few years of life, produces self-assured and less anxious adults due to brain formation or chemical reactions that take place in a baby's brain (simplified summary). As always, appreciate the posts, especially the Paul Tough book.



Rev. Pfloyd said:

Hans' "The Best Stats You've Ever Seen" Ted Talk is my favorite Ted Talk ever, which is a pretty big statement when you share company with talks like Sir Ken Robinson's education talk and Steven Pinker's Human Nature and the Blank Slate" talk.



Rev. Pfloyd said:

Voting with your feet. And of course now people are fleeing France to move across the water to England for the same reason. It's truly a global world; soaking the rich really isn't an option anymore.



otacon said:

The media tends to be a willing participant in fanning the flames of racism. Check CNN or the Drudge Report. Every day there is at least one racially charged story. Every day. It has become a tool for news outlets to get clicks but ultimately is a disservice to pretty much everyone.



otacon said:

This is very dangerous and this doctor is acting completely irresponsibly. Are these students supposed to take Adderall for their entire lives or just until they pass American History class? Why not prescribe steroids for under performing children in sports?



Rev. Pfloyd said:

Mark Perry has addressed this before--we don't need more humanities students in the New Economy. In fact, we probably don't need college graduates as a whole (and those we do would benefit from STEM education):

"Part of the skilled-worker shortage is being driven by the ongoing push from parents, teachers and high school counselors for high school graduates to attend four-year colleges, even though many college students are graduating with $20,000 or more in student loan debt and are unable to find full-time employment. Call it the “obsession with college education” or the “overselling” of college education that has perhaps unfairly influenced an entire generation of young Americans."

http://www.aei-ideas.org/2012/10/u-s-manufacturing-is-alive-and-well-and-with-new-training-programs-is-poised-to-create-millions-of-high-paying-jobs/

I've often hypothesized about the idea of charging higher tuition rates for "luxury majors" (what I would consider to be majors of less practical use and more of an "intellectual exercise") and the possible effects on college major or college attendance on the whole.





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