Friday, February 19, 2010

Good Blog, Bad Blog

This piece on NPR about science journalism kind of ruffled my feathers because of this quote:
Professor Stephen Schneider, Professor of Climatology, Stanford University: I got to put down the blogosphere. The blogosphere is one of the worst places to go for information, because, unlike Paul and others, most public people are not going to spend three hours a day doing this. We really need to reestablish the mainstream media in putting some specialists back in who can smell the north end of a southbound horse, because most general assignment reporters can't and certainly their editors can't.
Now, I could care less what people think of this blog, and it probably isn't even in the top 100 for blogs by professional economists. But I can probably name 10 economics blogs off the top of my head that cover important issues in economics far, far better than any economic journalist, and many of them link over into science, technology, and humanities blogs that are equally good for their fields and subfields. True, within the blogosphere exists a substantial amount of crap, but finding a well-done blog by a professional in the field is not too tough, and many of these professionals blog, in part, because they are weary of science journalists, many of whom are barely even functionally literate in the fields they cover, consistently misquote their work or take their results horribly out of context.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Underestimating the human cost of environmental harm...

... by 1/20.
From Ezra Klein:
Bush stopped weighing the costs and benefits of deregulation ... providing industry lobbyists with a back door to block regulations. OIRA also instructed agencies to discount the value of future lives in constructing cost-benefit analyses by 7 percent a year, so that 100 lives in 50 years would only be worth 3.39 current lives. (Such logic can be used by conservatives to argue that the present cost of regulating greenhouse gases outweighs the future benefits of stopping climate change.)

7 percent! Can you imagine earning 7 percent real return on a risk-free bond (after inflation, so nominally, about 9-10 percent nominal return!)? Ridiculous!
From James Kwak:
Over the last five years, the ten-year Treasury yield has generally been between 4 and 5 percent. Call that 4.5 percent. Inflation has been in the low 2 percent range, so at best this is a risk-free return of 2.5 percent. ... Since the legal value of a life is primarily based on future income, this means that the real value of a life increases roughly with productivity. Productivity growth runs at about 2% per year. So if you are getting 2.5 percent on your risk-free investment, 2 percentage points of that just goes to make up for the fact that the people your policy is killing are getting more expensive, which means your discount rate should be 0.5 percent. ... Shouldn’t we also be discounting for risk? The textbook says you should adjust your discount rate based on that probability distribution — the wider the distribution (the riskier the investment), the higher the discount rate. This makes sense because of basic risk aversion. ... That leaves us with a discount rate of about 1 percent, not 7 percent. And instead of 3.39 lives today, you get 60.80 lives today.

Is that a pro-life policy?

The Onion Goes Paul Samuelson on Money

The Onion on the "social contrivance" of money. An excerpt:
WASHINGTON—The U.S. economy ceased to function this week after unexpected existential remarks by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke shocked Americans into realizing that money is, in fact, just a meaningless and intangible social construct.

Enlarge Image
Calling it "basically no more than five rectangular strips of paper," Fed chairman Ben Bernanke illustrates how much "$200" is actually worth.
What began as a routine report before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday ended with Bernanke passionately disavowing the entire concept of currency, and negating in an instant the very foundation of the world's largest economy.

"Though raising interest rates is unlikely at the moment, the Fed will of course act appropriately if we…if we…" said Bernanke, who then paused for a moment, looked down at his prepared statement, and shook his head in utter disbelief. "You know what? It doesn't matter. None of this—this so-called 'money'—really matters at all."

More Cowbell! (Lower Price!)

Don't have a cowbell to cheer at the winter olympics? Have an iPhone? Don't worry! There's an app for that!

(link here)
Ain't technology great? Now you can cheer on the olympians for less, and not have some useless piece of crap sitting around your attic until 2014.
Cheapest price I saw for a real cowbell: 2.45
Cowbell app: Free! (if you own an iPhone - I don't)