Not-So-Random Thoughts (IV)

This is the fourth of a series of occasional posts that link to and discuss writings on matters that have been treated by this blog. The first edition is here; the second, here; the third, here; and the fifth, here; and the sixth, here.

Demystifying Science

Read my post about “Demystifying Science.” If you do, you will be unsurprised by Via Media’s post about “Unsettling Science.” Samples:

Me –

It is hard for scientists to rise above their human impulses. Einstein, for example, so much wanted quantum physics to be deterministic rather than probabilistic that he said “God does not play dice with the universe.” To which Nils Bohr replied, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.” But the human urge to be “right” or to be on the “right side” of an issue does not excuse anti-scientific behavior, such as that of so-called scientists who have become invested in AGW.

There are many so-called scientists who subscribe to AGW without having done relevant research. Why? Because AGW is the “in” thing, and they do not wish to be left out. This is the stuff of which “scientific consensus” is made. If you would not buy a make of automobile just because it is endorsed by a celebrity who knows nothing about automotive engineering, why would you “buy” AGW just because it is endorsed by a herd of so-called scientists who have never done research that bears directly on it?

There are two lessons to take from this. The first is  that no theory is ever proven. (A theory may, if it is well and openly tested, be useful guide to action in certain rigorous disciplines, such as engineering and medicine.) Any theory — to be a truly scientific one — must be capable of being tested, even by (and especially by) others who are skeptical of the theory. Those others must be able to verify the facts upon which the theory is predicated, and to replicate the tests and calculations that seem to validate the theory. So-called scientists who restrict access to their data and methods are properly thought of as cultists with a political agenda, not scientists. Their theories are not to be believed — and certainly are not to be taken as guides to action.

The second lesson is that scientists are human and fallible. It is in the best tradition of science to distrust their claims and to dismiss their non-scientific utterances.

Mead (at Via Media) –

Reports that the public is losing “faith in science” have caused a lot of chin stroking, head wagging and even some and finger pointing among the intelligentsia — especially since the studies point to a particularly sharp decline among conservatives.

Via Meadia isn’t so sure all this is on the right; the last time we looked, environmentalists around the world were denouncing decades of careful scientific research on the safety of genetically modified organisms, with dire economic consequences for African development. We’ve also noticed a distinct lack of faith in arithmetic by blue politicians who think that promising large pensions to union workers while failing to set money aside to pay those promises is a course of action that can somehow end well.

There is no sport intellectual elites enjoy more than recounting and bewailing the follies and errors of the Great Unwashed out there in flyover land, so in the academy and elsewhere the story of declining confidence in science is seen as reflecting a declining confidence in reason itself — and evidence of the rising tide of stupidity against which we enlightened few must ceaselessly battle.

But are things really so simple?…

Back in May 2011, Harvard University was rocked by the scandal of Professor Marc Hauser. A decorated senior scientist consistently voted one of the most popular professors by students, Hauser was the director of the university’s Mind, Brain and Behavior program and a trailblazer in the field of evolutionary psychology. He was also a fraud who falsified data in his experiments and was ultimately outed by his own graduate students. When the truth came out, he was barred from teaching and resigned from Harvard in disgrace.

Hauser’s case was far from an isolated incident. Seven months later, the New York Times reported on the corruption of noted Netherlands psychologist Diederik Stape, who managed to mislead the top scientific journals and bamboozle the best science reporters (including those at the Times) with article after article of fraudulent findings:

Corrupt, incompetent scientists? Lax research standards? Systemically flawed peer review processes? These problems, alas, are anything but rare. Stories like Stapel’s, plus reports on the findings of the evidence-based medicine movement about the unreliability of much medical science, and studies like Leslie John’s in Psychological Science (which revealed that the vast majority of psychologists engaged in questionable research practices and that one in ten falsified data)–not to mention the various alarmist exaggerations of some climate researchers–demonstrate that in many cases scientists have no one but themselves to blame for the loss of public faith in their work. Through laziness, politicization of findings, and outright falsification, the practitioners of some of our most important sciences have discredited their disciplines. Every Stapel and Hauser strengthens the voices of science skeptics — and rightly so.

More Inconvenient Facts about “The Rich”

Remember my posts “Taxing the Rich” and “More About Taxing the Rich,” in which I recorded my correspondence with an envious “progressive” leveler.  If not, this your chance to read them. Here are a couple of passages from the second post:

[I]t’s important to keep in mind that people aren’t “stuck” in a particular quintile; there’s a general tendency to move up as one ages, and then to drop down a bit after retiring. For more, see this: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/02/rich-getting-richer-and-poor-are.html.

As you know from our earlier exchange, high-income people already are paying the lion’s share of taxes in this country. (And, surprisingly, more than their peers in the other industrialized nations: http://www.taxfoundation.org/blog/show/27134.html.)

Mark Perry recently posted more about the volatility of high-income groups and the share of taxes paid by whoever happens to be in a high-income group. In “Significant Turnover in the Top 400 U.S. Earners; From 1992-2009, 85% Were in Just 1 or 2 Years,” Perry notes that the

IRS has a new report on the 400 taxpayers reporting the highest adjusted gross incomes (AGI) from 1992 to 2009, and the table above shows the frequency of appearing the “Fortunate 400″ over the entire period (Table 4 in the IRS report). The 7,200 tax returns (400 highest earners x 18 years) from 1992 to 2009 represented 3,869 unique, individual taxpayers, since some taxpayers made it into the top 400 earner group more than one year. The data show that:

1. Of the group of 3,869 top earners from 1992-2009, 2,824 individuals made it into the “Fortunate 400″ only one time during the 18-year period. Those 2,824 one-timers represent about 73% of the total (3,869), so only about one out of every four, or 27% of the total, made it into the top 400 more than once between 1992 and 2009 (see columns 2 and 3 above).

2. Moreover, 2,824 earners made it into the top 400 once (73%), and another 458 ( about 12%) made it into the top group twice. So 85% made it into the “Fortunate 400″ group either once or twice, and only about 15% made it into the top group more than twice.

3. There were only 87 taxpayers out of the 3,869 total taxpayers in the group (2.25%) who were in the top 400 in 10 or more years.

4. Of the 7,200 total returns filed over the 18-year period, 2,824 represent one-timers, so on average in any given year, about 40% of the returns are filed by taxpayers who are not in the “Fortunate 400″ in any of the other 17 years (see last two columns).  And more than half of the total 7,200 “Fortunate 400″ returns between 1992-2009 (3,740 and 52%) were filed by taxpayers whose returns only appeared in one or two of the 17 years.

According to the IRS, “The data reveal a mostly changing group of taxpayers over time. In fact, there were 3,869 different taxpayers represented in total for the 18-year period. Of these, a little more than 27 percent appear more than once and slightly more than 2 percent were represented in 10 or more years.”

Perry followed with “Top 400 Taxpayers Paid Almost As Much in Federal Income Taxes in 2009 as the Entire Bottom 50%.” The title says it all.

That’s it for today, folks. One more thing…

The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm

That’s the title of a post from last October, in which I quote an article by Stephen Heaney. He says (among other things):

If government exists to support us in our flourishing, then it is obligated, in the deepest sense, to function in accordance with the truth of what is fitting for us. It is obligated to try to protect us from harm, and to support us in what is good for us….

The cause du jour, the primary contest over human flourishing, is the debate over the meaning of marriage.

The truth of marriage is that it can only exist between one man and one woman, for the sake of the children who may come as a result of their sexual union. Thus government is obligated to recognize the truth of marriage; to protect and support that project of bringing children into the world and caring for them; to recognize all and only actual marriages; and to discourage sexual acts in other contexts.

One of the arguments for same-sex “marriage” is that

research shows no difference in outcomes between children whose parents have same-sex relationships and their peers raised by heterosexual parents.

That is from “New Research on Children of Same-Sex Parents Suggests Differences Matter,” which goes on to note the following:

Yesterday the academic journal Social Science Research published a detailed methodological review of the research on which the APA bases its conclusion—a study that questions the validity of the “no difference” assertion. Conducted by a Louisiana State University family scholar, the article concludes:

[N]ot one of the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 APA Brief compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children. The available data, which are drawn primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalizable claim either way. Such a statement would not be grounded in science. To make a generalizable claim, representative, large-sample studies are needed—many of them.

A large representative sample is supplied in a second new study, conducted by a University of Texas–Austin sociologist and published in the same journal. The New Family Structures Study (NFSS), under the direction of Dr. Mark Regnerus, provides the most representative picture to date of young adults whose parents had same-sex relationships. NFSS is a large, random, nationally representative sample….

According to NFSS, just 1.7 percent of young adults ages 18 to 39 reported having a parent who has had a same-sex romantic relationship. The experience of long-term stability in same-sex households is rarer still….

Only two respondents whose mothers had a same-sex relationship reported that this living arrangement lasted all 18 years of their childhood. No respondents with fathers who had a same-sex relationship reported such longevity….

Compared to young adults in traditional, intact families, young adults whose mothers had a same-sex relationship tended to fare worse than their peers in intact biological families on 24 of the 40 outcomes examined. For example, they were far more likely to report being sexually victimized, to be on welfare, or to be currently unemployed.

Young adults whose fathers had a same-sex relationship showed significant differences from their peers in intact families on 19 of the outcomes. For example, they were significantly more likely to have contemplated suicide, to have a sexually transmitted infection, or to have been forced to have sex against their will….

A significant improvement on the limited research to date on child outcomes and same-sex parenting, this new study marks an important development in the research. As findings based on studies using the NFSS and other large, nationally representative data on same-sex parents and their children accumulate, a more generalizable picture will begin to emerge.

At present, far too little is known about this new household form into which activist courts are pushing America—and much of what has been presented to date gives an inaccurate picture of the reality that children of same-sex parenting have experienced.

NFSS project director Dr. Mark Regnerus concludes in a piece running on Slate today that “the stable, two-parent biological married model [is] the far more common and accomplished workhorse of the American household, and still—according to the data, at least—the safest place for a kid.”

Ah, but don’t tell your typical libertarian that the “harm principle” is an empty concept that lends itself to socially destructive causes like same-sex “marriage.”