Quotulatiousness

September 1, 2015

French Pistols of World War 1 featuring Othais from C&RSENAL I THE GREAT WAR – Special

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 31 Aug 2015

The next live event will be on September 3 6pm CET. Othais will introduce us to German rifles and pistols. You can already find a few episodes about them online on his channel: http://bit.ly/OthaisChannel

This is the 2nd part of our special episodes on French small arms of WW1 and how they were used in battle. Othais explains the problems of manufacturing pistols like the Ruby Mle 1915 on a big scale. The French “Lebel revolver” also known as Model 1892 has a few interesting features like being a single action and a double action revolver at the same time. Particularly, the unusual reloading mechanism has a fascinating military history.

Cultural libertarians

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Allum Bokhari claims to see a rising tide of cultural libertarians in our future:

A new force is emerging in the culture wars. Authoritarians of all stripes, from religious reactionaries to left-wing “social justice warriors,” are coming under fire from a new wave of thinkers, commentators, and new media stars who reject virtually all of their political values.

From the banning of Charlie Hebdo magazine across British university campuses on the grounds that it promoted islamophobia, to the removal of the video game Grand Theft Auto V from major retailers in Australia on the grounds that it promoted sexism, threats to cultural freedom proliferate.

But a growing number of commentators, media personalities and academics reject the arguments that underpin these assaults on free expression, in particular the idea that people are either too emotionally fragile to deal with “offence” or too corruptible to be exposed to dangerous ideas.

In a recent co-authored feature for Breitbart, I coined a term to describe this new trend: cultural libertarianism. The concept was critically discussed by Daniel Pryor at the Centre for a Stateless Society, who drew attention to the increasing viciousness of cultural politics in the internet age.

There is a reason for the sound and fury. Like all insurgent movements, the emergence of cultural libertarianism is creating tensions, border skirmishes, and even the occasional war with lazy incumbent elites. Some of these rows can be breathtakingly vitriolic, as self-righteous anger from social justice types collides with mocking and occasionally caustic humour from cultural libertarians.

Bet you didn’t see this coming – Koch and Sanders working together

As everyone on the left knows, the Koch brothers are blackest avatars of evil incarnate and any of their works are tainted with pure, unadulterated evil … which might make some heads explode because The Intercept is reporting that the Koch fortune might be put to work to help elect Bernie Sanders:

I have a prediction: Charles and David Koch will soon announce they’re backing Bernie Sanders for president.

Here’s my logic, which is irrefutable:

We know the Koch brothers, and the organizations they fund, hate corporate welfare more than anything. They hate it!

The top priority of Freedom Partners, which oversees the Koch network of donors, is “tackling ‘rent-seeking,’ ‘corporate welfare,’ and other forms of cronyism.”

Charles Koch himself just told Politico’s Mike Allen that “We have to show that this corporate welfare and cronyism is unjust.” Sure, said Koch, it makes their friends unhappy, but “so what? You’ve got to do the right thing.” So as Allen wrote, “Rolling back corporate welfare is one of the top issues Koch is pursuing.”

Similarly, when Koch spoke recently to 450 of his fellow big donors at a recent Koch event in California, he demanded that “they have to start opposing, rather than promoting, corporate welfare.” In the Wall Street Journal, Koch wrote that “I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs.”

It might sound outlandish, but there aren’t many of the four hundred Republican candidates who are as staunch against crony capitalism, corporate welfare, and rent-seeking as good old self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders (aside from Rand Paul, I can’t think of any current Republican candidates who might even hint at biting the corporate hands that feed their campaigns’ insatiable demand for fresh funding…).

Byzantine Empire: Justinian and Theodora – VI: Fighting for Rome – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Jul 2015

Belisarius has only just taken Neapolis when the king of the Ostrogoths is overthrown. The new king, Vitiges, withdraws from Rome entirely to consolidate his power, allowing Belisarius to take Rome without a fight. But after Vitiges gathers his troops, he marches to retake Rome. He springs a surprise attack on Belisarius at the Salarian Bridge, which the Roman general barely escapes. Now he must survive in a city under siege, invening ship mills to continue producing the grain that feeds the city and training the civilians as soldiers. He holds off the Ostrogoths until reinforcements from Justinian arrive. After an indecisive battle, he agrees to a truce with Vitiges, which gives him time to position his troops. When the Ostrogoths break the truce, Belisarius is ready for them and crushes their force to drive them finally out of Rome.

QotD: Question everything

Filed under: Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m a fairly big believer in the idea of Questioning Everything, and the absolute first thing on the list of Everything to be Questioned is the self.

Why do I think the way I do? What bigotries lurk in my heart? What cheap rationalizations do I comfort myself with? What petty vanities do I sustain despite all evidence, and what contempts and condescensions do I offer others to sustain those vanities?

What myths and lies do I consciously believe in — and which do I subconsciously believe in?

I don’t want to be all Mr. Liberal here — and I certainly don’t want to lecture self-alleged Liberals on Liberalism 101 — but I think those are reasonable questions that all thinking Men or thinking Women should ask themselves every once in a while.

Self-serving answers shouldn’t be trusted. Self-serving answers may actually be correct, but they should never be trusted, and certainly never accepted at first blush.

We’re taught to be suspicious of flattery from our very first Aesop’s Fable. We know other people may flatter us in order to bend us to their own interests.

The most insidious flattery of all is self-flattery, because we never suspect ourselves of having any ulterior motives.

But of course we all do. We all want to feel superior to our fellow man, and especially those of Other Tribes.

And we will flatter ourselves until we feel just that.

Those who only question other people’s notions are not really questioning anything at all.

Ace, “Breaking: Cult of Intellectual Insecurity Reacts to Threat to Intellect in an Insecure, Cultish Way”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-09-19.

August 31, 2015

Ten years later – how the media covered Katrina

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

W. Joseph Campbell describes the media’s role in contributing to — and sometimes inventing — the persistent myths of what happened in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina made land-fall:

I call it the “myth of superlative reporting,” the notion that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught 10 years ago, journalists bravely held powerful officials accountable for their inept responses to a storm blamed for the deaths of 1,800 people.

Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchorman, gave voice to the “myth of superlative reporting,” describing Katrina coverage as “one of the quintessential great moments in television news,” ranking “right there with the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate coverage, you name it.”

A quintessential great moment is was not.

The reporting of Katrina, as I wrote in my 2010 media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, “was in important respects flawed and exaggerated. On crucial details, journalists erred badly, and got it wrong” in describing horrors the storm supposedly unleashed across New Orleans after making landfall east of the city on August 29, 2005.

Journalists reported snipers firing at medical personnel, I noted. They reported shots were fired at helicopters, halting evacuations from the Convention Center in New Orleans. They told of bodies being stacked like cordwood inside the Convention Center.

News reports also spoke of roving gangs that terrorized occupants of the Louisiana Superdome, where many people had taken shelter. The reports said children were victims of sexual assault, that one seven-year-old was raped and her throat was slit. They reported that sharks were plying the flooded streets of New Orleans.

None of those reports, as it turned out, was verified or substantiated.

“If anyone rioted,” said a bipartisan congressional report about Katrina, “it was the media.

“Many stories of rape, murder, and general lawlessness were at best unsubstantiated, at worst simply false.”

Erroneous and over-the-top reporting, I wrote in Getting It Wrong, “had the cumulative the effect of painting for America and the rest of the world a scene of surreal violence and terror, something straight out of Mad Max or Lord of the Flies.”

Here’s what I wrote ten years ago, based on the media reports coming out of Louisiana:

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The NDP and federal corporate taxes

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon looks at how the New Democratic Party is talking about their approach to corporate taxation during the current election campaign:

… the OECD says that the current combined (that is, federal plus state/provincial) corporate income tax rate in the US is 39 per cent. In Canada, it’s 26.3 per cent (the federal rate of 15 per cent plus an average provincial rate of 11.3 per cent.) Getting us up to something resembling the U.S. rate (in the absence of changes in provincial rates) would require increasing the federal rate to around 27 per cent.

The NDP has made use of several different reference points since then. For example, rolling back the cuts made under the Conservative government would bring the rate back up to 22 per cent. Increasing the federal rate to 19 per cent would bring us up to the average of the other G7 countries. The NDP’s target is apparently now down to 17 per cent or so.

As far as the prospects for Canadian economic growth go, this steady reduction is good news: corporate income taxes are the most harmful to economic growth. The growing recognition of the negative effects of corporate tax rates explains why Canada and other OECD countries have made it a point to reduce corporate income taxes over the past few decades […]

If you look at just the relationship between federal corporate income tax rates and federal income tax revenues, you get pretty much the same story. Even though federal corporate tax rates have fallen by more than half over the past 30 years, corporate income tax revenues have continued to fluctuate around two per cent of GDP.

Canadian corporate tax rates and revenue 1985-2014

There are at least two reasons why you might think that higher corporate tax rates might not result in higher corporate tax revenues:

  1. Higher corporate tax rates reduce the after-tax rate of return on investment. Everything else being equal, this reduces investment, capital accumulation and profits. Less profits means less corporate income to tax.
  2. Higher corporate taxes produce an incentive for multinational firms to shift taxable activities away from high-tax jurisdictions.

In the short and medium term, the second point is probably more important.

Newspapers in the 21st century – what are they for?

Filed under: Business, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the confusion even among newspaper folks themselves on their real role in today’s society:

But the newspaper is part of a different ecosystem now. A front page is a late contribution to an ongoing conversation in a way it was not in 1963, or even 2003. Editors making decisions about what images to use had heard Alison Parker’s screams; they knew many readers had heard them. That non-graphic touch made the photo of Parker with the killer’s weapon in the foreground “graphic” — too graphic for the proverbial breakfast table. (Although I would remind sensitive editors and media critics that the “breakfast table” is an incredibly outmoded way of thinking about our jobs, much like the idea that we are presenting news in a utilitarian, isolated way to readers who haven’t heard it.)

The truth is that the minds of most newspaper creators and editors are not completely clear about what these strange flat objects are good for in the year 2015. The New York Daily News, which does know what it is for, was unflinching in its front-page treatment of the WDBJ shooting. It caught immediate hell, but its confidence in its mission is a virtue. The paper knows that it exists partly because when something happens, New Yorkers can’t wait to see what those crazy-ass bastards in the tabloids will do with it.

Does the newspaper do harm with its relative sensationalism? It seems impossible to know. But it is certainly not the infliction of harm that critics and second-guessers fear most: it is the giving of offence.

Brendan O’Neill | Freedom of Speech and Right to Offend | Proposition

Filed under: Britain, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 25 Aug 2015

The Motion: This House Believes the Right to Free Speech Always Includes the Right to Offend.

Debate speaker 1 of 6. Watch all the speakers for this debate in order of appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtWrl…

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked Online and a columnist for The Australian and The Big Issue.

ABOUT THE OXFORD UNION SOCIETY: The Union is the world’s most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 192 years, aiming to promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

H/T to Samizdata for the link.

QotD: Artistic memories of other futures

Filed under: History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Two exhibitions in New York this season revisit memories of futures past: Nam June Paik’s “Becoming Robot” (which will be at the Asia Society until January 4) looks to a cybernetics-obsessed midcentury avant-garde, while the Guggenheim’s “Reconstructing the Universe” show of Italian futurist works (which has just closed) documented a movement that, while aesthetically quite distinct from Paik’s, is organized around the same essential vision: man’s aspiring to the condition of machine.

[…]

There are occasionally clever pieces: A seated Buddha contemplates a television-and-camera set-up that contemplates him back, the Buddha and his image on the screen suggesting an infinite feedback loop. A reclining Buddha stretches atop two television screens showing a video of a nude woman reclining in the same position. (Paik very often cuts to the root of the avant-garde sensibility: “How do we get some naked chicks in this?”) His robots are still interesting to look at, some of them primitive mechanical assemblages, some of them televisions and other electronic devices piled together anthropomorphically, though the contemporary commercially made robot toys on display for context are at least as interesting, their nameless creators liberated from such pressures as attend those who understand themselves as artists. Though it should be noted that the makers of the Micronaut robot toys I loved as a child were not entirely immune from the puerile sexual obsessions of the so-called avant-garde: This, for example, was on the market long before anybody ever exclaimed: “Drill, baby, drill!”

The Italian futurists, whose love for machines and violence and the machinery of violence and whose hatred of women would do so much to shape the aesthetics of fascism, foresaw a less sexy future than Paik’s, if one that was no less mechanical: Biplanes soar over the Roman Colosseum, cities are fitted together like clockworks, machinery everywhere is ascendant. By the time Mussolini makes his inevitable appearance, he, too, has been reduced to a piece of artillery, his face simply another item in the Italian arsenal, a big, fleshy cannonball.

One of the purposes of art, high or low, is to make visible the philosophical; the fascist understanding of society as one big factory or one big machine was expressed in futurist art.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Futures Trading: We are no longer thinking about the future because we believe we are there”, National Review, 2014-10-01.

August 30, 2015

Vikings beat Dallas 28-14 to keep preseason winning streak alive

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:10

I sat down in front of the TV last night, expecting to watch the Vikings at the Cowboys, but after scrolling through the 500+ listings on Rogers, they were only showing one preseason game, and that was the Seattle versus San Diego contest. I ended up watching the NFL Network in order to catch the odd play and keep up with the scores. By the time I got to see any of the game I was interested in, Teddy Bridgewater and the first team offense had already handed over to the backups.

Unless he plays in the final preseason game, that gives Teddy a preseason stat line of 7-for-7 and 76 yards in this game and 29 of 35 for 295 yards and a TD with no interceptions over four games. That’s a completion rate of 82.8%, which would be very impressive if he carries that over into the regular season. He’d said earlier this week that his season goal is to complete 70% of his passes.

In the various final roster predictions that have been showing up in the fan pages lately, a popular “hot taek” has been that Cordarrelle Patterson was on the bubble and might not make the team. Then he does something like this and reminds everyone why teams didn’t want to kick to him if they could possibly avoid it. That’s a 107-yard kick return for a Vikings TD.

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The nature, faults, and virtues of Science Fiction according to Robert Heinlein

Filed under: History, Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Library of America posted Robert Heinlein’s comments from a lecture series in 1957:

First let us decide what we mean by the term “science fiction” — or at least what we will mean by it here. Anyone wishing a scholarly discussion of the etymology of the term will find one by Sam Moskowitz in the February, 1957 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I shan’t repeat what he has said so well but will summarize for our immediate purposes. The field has existed throughout the history of literature but it used to be called by several names: speculative romance, pseudo-scientific romance (a term that sets a science fiction writer’s teeth on edge), utopian literature, fantasy — or, more frequently, given no name, simply lumped in with all other fiction.

But the term “science fiction” is now part of the language, as common as the neologism “guided missile.” We are stuck with it and I will use it … although personally I prefer the term “speculative fiction” as being more descriptive. I will use these two terms interchangeably, one being the common handle, the other being one that aids me in thinking — but with the same referent in each case.

“Science fiction” means different things to different people. “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,” said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra” — in which case the term science fiction has piled up a lot of expensive overtime. Damon Knight, a distinguished critic in this field, argues that there is no clear distinction between fantasy and science fiction, in which opinion August Derleth seems to agree. I cannot forcefully disagree with their lines of reasoning — but I wonder if they have made their definitions so broad as to include practically all fiction? To define is to limit: a definition cannot be useful unless it limits. Certainly Mickey Spillane’s murder stories could easily be classed as fantasies, as can many or most of the love stories appearing in the big slick magazines. But I feel sure that Mr. Knight and Mr. Derleth did not intend their definitions to be quite that unbounded and in any case my difference of opinion with them is merely a matter of taste and personal convenience.

Theodore Sturgeon, a giant in this field, defines a science fiction story as one in which the story would not exist if it were not for the scientific element — an admirably sharp delimitation but one which seems to me perhaps as uncomfortably tight as the one above seems to me unusefully roomy. It would exclude from the category “science fiction” much of Mr. Sturgeon’s best work, stories which are to my mind speculative rather than fantastic. There are many stories that are lumped into the class “science fiction” in the minds of most people (and in mine) which contain only a detectable trace, or none, of science — for example, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Fritz Leiber’s great short story “Coming Attraction,” Thomas F. Tweed’s novel Gabriel Over the White House. All three stories are of manners and morals; any science in them is merely parsley trimming, not the meat. Yet each is major speculation, not fantasy, and each must be classed as science fiction as the term is commonly used.

Reginald Bretnor, author, editor and acute critic of this field, gives what is to me the most thoughtful, best reasoned, and most useful definition of science fiction. He sees it as a field of literature much broader than that most often termed “main-stream” literature — or “non-science fiction,” if you please — science fiction being that sort in which the author shows awareness of the nature and importance of the human activity known as the scientific method, shows equal awareness of the great body of human knowledge already collected through that activity, and takes into account in his stories the effects and possible future effects on human beings of scientific method and scientific fact. This indispensable three-fold awareness does not limit the science fiction author to stories about science — he need not write a gadget story; indeed a gadget story would not be science fiction under this definition if the author failed in this three-fold awareness. Any subject can be used in a science fiction story under this definition, provided (and indispensably required) that the author has the attitude comprised by the three-fold awareness and further provided that he has and uses appropriately that body of knowledge pertinent to the scope of his story. I have paraphrased in summary Mr. Bretnor’s comments and I hope he will forgive me.

Mr. Bretnor’s definition gives the science fiction author almost unlimited freedom in subject matter while requiring of him high, rigorous, and mature standards in execution.

In contrast to science fiction thus defined, non-science fiction — all other fiction including the most highly acclaimed “literary” novels — at most shows awareness of the by-products of scientific method already in existence. Non-science fiction admits the existence of the automobile, radar, polio vaccine, H-bombs, etc., but refuses to countenance starships and other such frivolities. That is to say, non-science fiction will concede that water is running down hill but refuses to admit that it might ever reach the bottom … or could ever be pumped up again. It is a static attitude, an assumption that what is now forever shall be.

Argentina’s decaying armed forces

Filed under: Americas, Economics, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Argentina is, once again, suffering the consequences of populist-but-incompetent governance, and the state of the armed forces clearly reflect the economic woes of the country. Last year, Rowan Allport contrasted the Argentinian military in the late 1970s leading up to the Falkland War with the hollow shell of today:

It is difficult to believe from the vantage point of 2014, but in 1978, Argentina came within hours of invading Chile. The scheme arose as a result of a conflict between the two countries regarding the ownership of the Picton, Nueva and Lennox islands, which are situated at the western entrance to the Beagle Channel – a waterway running between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The plan envisaged the seizure by the Argentine military of these and a number of other islands, to be followed shortly after by an invasion of mainland Chile, with the intent of capturing the capital Santiago and other key population centres. From this position, the Argentine leadership believed that it would be in an unassailable position to force Chile into a beggar’s peace regarding its territorial demands. Whilst the operation was ultimately aborted at the last minute, it was the then government’s belief that Buenos Ares had the ability to exercise hard power on a substantial scale – together the domestic economic crisis it was experiencing – that ultimately led it to once again travel down the path of aggression with the invasion of the British-governed Falkland Islands in 1982. Although Argentina did not expect the British to attempt to retake the territory and ultimately lost the conflict, its armed forces were – in addition to performing the initial amphibious assault which captured the islands – able to deploy a carrier group, surface action groups and submarines into the South Atlantic, and managed to inflict significant losses on the British using modern anti-ship weapons and a substantial fleet of jet aircraft.

Flashing forward over three decades, the Argentine Armed Forces find themselves in a calamitous state. The depleted Argentine Navy rarely puts to sea, is desperately short of spare parts, and much of the ordinance carried by its ships is past its expiration date. 2012 saw the training ship ARA Libertad seized in Ghana on the orders of a hedge fund seeking reparations from the Argentinian government [blogged here]. Shortly afterward, the corvette ARA Espora was stranded in South Africa for seventy-three days after the German company hired to repair a mechanical fault refused to carry out the work as a result of the Argentine government’s unpaid bills. Then, in a final indignity, 2013 saw the sinking of the decommissioned destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad in port as a consequence of poor maintenance [blogged here]. The Argentine Air Force largely consists of a collection of obsolete aircraft mostly dating back to the 1970s, which are frequently grounded due to poor serviceability. The Argentine Army has deployed on operations without some of even the most basic equipment and rarely has the resources for training.

So how did this situation arise? As with most such calamities, the root causes are both financial and political. The story of Argentina’s economic fall from grace – both historical and contemporary – is well known. In 1914, Argentina was the tenth wealthiest country in the world, but a century later it has fallen to fifty-fourth place. The last three decades has seen the country careen from crisis to crisis. During the 1980s, Argentina was crippled by inflation and external debt. The free market reforms begun under President Carlos Menem allowed a short reprieve, but a succession of financial crises in Mexico, Brazil, Russia and South East Asia during the 1990s – combined with a failure to tackle numerous underlying domestic economic issues and corruption – sowed the seeds of further catastrophe. In 1998, Argentina’s economy fell into a depression, climaxing with the largest debt default in human history. Though a commodities boom and a currency devaluation allowed room for a brief recovery, the increasing use of interventionist economic policies by the government, along with the 2008 global financial crash and attempts by so-called ‘vulture funds’ to obtain payment for debts on which Argentina had previously defaulted led the country back into crisis, forcing another default in 2014.

So how bad is it now? Argentina is being forced to retire the last of their supersonic jet fighters because they can neither maintain nor replace them:

According to IHS Janes

    “The Argentine Air Force is drastically cutting staff working hours and decommissioning its last fighter aircraft amid continuing budget issues.

    A recently published daily agenda indicates that the service’s working hours have been significantly reduced, from 0800 to 1300; rationing of food, energy consumption, and office supplies has been directed headquarters staff and property residents; and only the minimum personnel required to staff headquarters, directorates, and commands are working.

    These orders, issued on 11 August, take effect 18 August. A next step will cut Monday and Tuesday as working days. Moreover, air force officials said any aircraft taken out of service will not undergo maintenance for now.”

This leaves the Argentine military with just two types of jet aircraft A-4’s and IA-63’s and both are subsonic, decades old and barely serviceable. Argentina had looked into buying new Gripen’s from Sweden via Brazil but this was vetoed by the United Kingdom which makes a large number of internal components for the aircraft. They had also looked at JF-17’s from China, but the JF-17s proved too expensive to modify.

QotD: The debatable Vosges

Filed under: Europe, History, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Having completed to our satisfaction the Black Forest, we journeyed on our wheels through Alt Breisach and Colmar to Münster; whence we started a short exploration of the Vosges range, where, according to the present German Emperor, humanity stops. Of old, Alt Breisach, a rocky fortress with the river now on one side of it and now on the other — for in its inexperienced youth the Rhine never seems to have been quite sure of its way, — must, as a place of residence, have appealed exclusively to the lover of change and excitement. Whoever the war was between, and whatever it was about, Alt Breisach was bound to be in it. Everybody besieged it, most people captured it; the majority of them lost it again; nobody seemed able to keep it. Whom he belonged to, and what he was, the dweller in Alt Breisach could never have been quite sure. One day he would be a Frenchman, and then before he could learn enough French to pay his taxes he would be an Austrian. While trying to discover what you did in order to be a good Austrian, he would find he was no longer an Austrian, but a German, though what particular German out of the dozen must always have been doubtful to him. One day he would discover that he was a Catholic, the next an ardent Protestant. The only thing that could have given any stability to his existence must have been the monotonous necessity of paying heavily for the privilege of being whatever for the moment he was. But when one begins to think of these things one finds oneself wondering why anybody in the Middle Ages, except kings and tax collectors, ever took the trouble to live at all.

For variety and beauty, the Vosges will not compare with the hills of the Schwarzwald. The advantage about them from the tourist’s point of view is their superior poverty. The Vosges peasant has not the unromantic air of contented prosperity that spoils his vis-a-vis across the Rhine. The villages and farms possess more the charm of decay. Another point wherein the Vosges district excels is its ruins. Many of its numerous castles are perched where you might think only eagles would care to build. In others, commenced by the Romans and finished by the Troubadours, covering acres with the maze of their still standing walls, one may wander for hours.

The fruiterer and greengrocer is a person unknown in the Vosges. Most things of that kind grow wild, and are to be had for the picking. It is difficult to keep to any programme when walking through the Vosges, the temptation on a hot day to stop and eat fruit generally being too strong for resistance. Raspberries, the most delicious I have ever tasted, wild strawberries, currants, and gooseberries, grow upon the hill-sides as black-berries by English lanes. The Vosges small boy is not called upon to rob an orchard; he can make himself ill without sin. Orchards exist in the Vosges mountains in plenty; but to trespass into one for the purpose of stealing fruit would be as foolish as for a fish to try and get into a swimming bath without paying. Still, of course, mistakes do occur.

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.

August 29, 2015

We need a new publication called The Journal of Successfully Reproduced Results

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

We depend on scientific studies to provide us with valid information on so many different aspects of life … it’d be nice to know that the results of those studies actually hold up to scrutiny:

One of the bedrock assumptions of science is that for a study’s results to be valid, other researchers should be able to reproduce the study and reach the same conclusions. The ability to successfully reproduce a study and find the same results is, as much as anything, how we know that its findings are true, rather than a one-off result.

This seems obvious, but in practice, a lot more work goes into original studies designed to create interesting conclusions than into the rather less interesting work of reproducing studies that have already been done to see whether their results hold up.

Everyone wants to be part of the effort to identify new and interesting results, not the more mundane (and yet potentially career-endangering) work of reproducing the results of older studies:

Why is psychology research (and, it seems likely, social science research generally) so stuffed with dubious results? Let me suggest three likely reasons:

A bias towards research that is not only new but interesting: An interesting, counterintuitive finding that appears to come from good, solid scientific investigation gets a researcher more media coverage, more attention, more fame both inside and outside of the field. A boring and obvious result, or no result, on the other hand, even if investigated honestly and rigorously, usually does little for a researcher’s reputation. The career path for academic researchers, especially in social science, is paved with interesting but hard to replicate findings. (In a clever way, the Reproducibility Project gets around this issue by coming up with the really interesting result that lots of psychology studies have problems.)

An institutional bias against checking the work of others: This is the flipside of the first factor: Senior social science researchers often actively warn their younger colleagues — who are in many cases the best positioned to check older work—against investigating the work of established members of the field. As one psychology professor from the University of Southern California grouses to the Times, “There’s no doubt replication is important, but it’s often just an attack, a vigilante exercise.”

[…]

Small, unrepresentative sample sizes: In general, social science experiments tend to work with fairly small sample sizes — often just a few dozen people who are meant to stand in for everyone else. Researchers often have a hard time putting together truly representative samples, so they work with subjects they can access, which in a lot of cases means college students.

A couple of years ago, I linked to a story about the problem of using western university students as the default source of your statistical sample for psychological and sociological studies:

A notion that’s popped up several times in the last couple of months is that the easy access to willing test subjects (university students) introduces a strong bias to a lot of the tests, yet until recently the majority of studies disregarded the possibility that their test results were unrepresentative of the general population.

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