Saturday, February 26, 2011

Misconduct in Science and Research

Recent news about procedural misconduct by scientists is easy to find.  However, searches of JSTOR uncovered zero articles about misconduct in scientific research from 1900 to 1950.  From 1950 to the present, 40 articles addressed the related problems.  An obvious upswing occurred after 1987. Gale CENGAGE yielded 56 titles, many of those reports of headline news about Jan Hendrik Schön and other immediacies.  On the other hand, if you search via Google or Bing for "research misconduct" or "misconduct in science" etc., there is no shortage of popular news stories and formal reports.  This summary from The New York Times is from 1991.  In fact, the NYT Articles database offers embarrassingly many such stories (link here).

Police chiefs know the easy generalization that 80% of your problems come from 20% of your addresses regardless of the neighborhood.  Crime is a universal problem. Nonetheless, variations in crime statistics show that predation and fraud are more common in some cities and states and nations than in others.  Harms flourish where they are wanted. 
So, while fraud in science research is known across all studies, it is now most common in health and medicine.  Tremendous funding is one factor.  Willy Sutton robbed banks because that's where the money was.  

And to be fair, living things are more complex than rocks and stars, so experimental results can be harder to duplicate. Not all researchers have the same finesse; and it is easy to believe that you have it, but your critics do not.

These same factors cause fraud in forensic science.  Joyce Gilchrist, Fred Zain, and Pamela Fish made headlines when their counterfeit lab reports were exposed.  [Annie Dookhan is added to the list.] The problems with fingerprinting go deeper (NecessaryFacts here).  As with other instances, the causal factors may be the pressure for results, the huge and easy funding for such work, and a desire to believe your own results, coupled with a faith in altruistic ends that justify any means.  But the rational choice theory of crime stands against such excuses and denials. 

According to the theory of crime based on objective psycho-epistemology, criminals act from the lack of thought.  When pressed later, words come out of their mouths, often generated by an intuitively correct feeling for what the interrogator wants to hear.  They don't mean it. 

The Office of Research Integrity of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports on its findings.  Defrauding the federal government is a federal crime, no surprise in that.  Every university has some similar "institutional review board" for human and life science experiments.  No similar agencies assure integrity in the physical sciences.  None exists for criminology. 

New age and post-modernist professors teach future police officers that there is no such thing as right and wrong.  According to Stuart Henry, Bruce A. Arrigo, Christopher Williams, and Mark M. Lanier, taking their cues from Paul Feyerabend and Jacques Lacan, the Enlightenment was a Euro-centric, phallo-centric conquest.  They claim that the senses are invalid, that logic has no validity.  Such assertions are the deepest expression of academic fraud. 

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
Four Books about Bad Science
Criminalistics: Science or Folkway?
Junk Criminology as Pseudo-Science
Science Fair Science Fraud
David Harriman's Logical Leap
Great Scientific Experiments
Fantastic Voyages: Teaching Science with Science Fiction

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What is Literacy?

We can feel good about the fact that literacy in the United States is 99% -- until we realize that this puts the USA tied for 21st with 24 other nations, all behind Tonga (99.2), Kazakhstan (99.6), Slovenia (99.7), Estonia (99.8) and Georgia (100%).  (Data is from  this Wikipedia article which cites this United Nations Development Programme report.)  According to the CIA World Factbook table on Literacy there is no common definition, so the CIA accepts prima facie the numbers provided by local governments.  Afghanistan counts those over age 15, which is a common threshhold.  Albania counts people over nine years of age.  Averages also must be parsed out by gender. 

I once worked a project where my manager was an ethnic Estonian.  He told me that during the worldwide depression of the 1930s, Estonians counterfeited postage stamps in preference to money.  He said that measured by the number of books published annually per capita in the native language, Estonia was second only to Iceland in literacy.  I never checked the figures from the 1930s, but today's numbers are available.  By this standard, the USA, which publishes the most books overall, is again 21st, behind Israel (20) Hungary (19), Estonia (14), Iceland (2), and the Vatican City (1). 

The table is at the bottom of this post.  I compiled the numbers from the usual sources via Wikipedia: books published annually; and 2010 population estimates.  I found it interesting to look at the number of people per book.  At the Vatican City it is four.   Here in the USA, it is over 1100. 

Of course, it is important to read the data.  The UK greatly leads the USA in books published annually, but literacy in English extends to the USA, Australia, etc.  My own copies of The Wealth of Nations and The Communist Manifesto were published in the UK, but bought (used) here in the USA.   The same must be recognized for Spanish and Chinese.  Hong Kong and Taiwan lead in literacy, but the mainland is third in total books published.  Also, literacy in ideographs can be problematic.  In a college class in Japanese for Business, I learned that it is paradoxical that a nation with 99% literacy has markedly fewer readers of newspapers.  To read a newspaper requires knowing about 3000 kanji characters.  I do not know what it takes to be literate in Chinese in China, but 3000 characters seems about right, given that Ogden's Basic English lists 850 words. 

The United Nations Development Programme and the CIA both agree that literacy is a measure of prosperity and freedom.  Thus, it is telling that Arabic does not appear in the top tier.  In Iran, it is Farsi.  The most populous Muslim nation is Indonesia, where Arabic is a foreign language.  As the home of Mecca, with its small population, Saudi Arabia could be like the Vatican City, but it is not.  And that speaks to the economic and political poverty of the Arabic nations. 

Spain is joined by Argentina and Mexico as a top producer of books.  That compounds the magnitude of the raw numbers.  So does the aggregation of the UK, Canada, the USA, and Australia.  To balance that consider the linguistic isolation of leading producers such as Israel, Hungary, and Vietnam.  At the other extreme, India is a nation with five official languages.  Its rank (45th) does come as an aggregate of all books against total population.  Still, when contrasted with China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the internal lingusitic barriers explain much of India's poverty.

Where does all of this leave the USA?  And how does the Internet impact the statistics?  What does it mean to be a nation of bloggers and tweeters? 

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS

Click to see full chart of statistics.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another Example of Unlimited Constitutional Government

Regardless of how stringent the constitution, the government always can be expanded.  Does the legislature have a right to establish its own reference library? The Library of Congress serves that purpose, and serves the nation secondarily.  Here in Michigan, the legislature has its library - open to the public at their request on our behalf.  They also have a museum.  A legislative museum might seem to be out of bounds, but certainly not every archive comes in the form of a book.  The government must have the right to record its own actions.  By extension, those acts - the papers; the artifacts - would become meaningless without a record of the cultural context.  So, a museum would be appropriate to support the knowledge base of the government.  How far would it be extended?
One of the young librarians, Will Tuchrello, in the South Asia department (which has Southeast Asia), saw that I was a serious researcher and he found a desk for me in a "researchers" room so I did not have to be out in the reading room. I also had a place to store a heavy bag of nickels which I used at the copy machine. I could also keep my books on the desk until I finished with them. My research really sped up!
[...]
But I am happy to report that Dr. Tuchrello was promoted up through the ranks and is now the Director of the LOC's Southeast Asia office in Jakarta, Indonesia. He travels the region looking for references, posters, maps, etc. to purchase to send back to the LOC. The LOC also trades American publications with countries too! The LOC could not have found a more dedicated person for the job! 
Howard A. Daniel III, E-Sylum Volume 14, Number 06, February 6, 2011
NUMISMATIC BOOK MUTILATION AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS here

So, in a strictly limited constitutional republic, it could be necessary to have librarians traveling the world trading on behalf of the government.

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
Unlimited Constitutional Government (January 2011 blogs) here.
An Objective Foundation for Government

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Cure for a Failing Empire

If you were a druid from 180 AD and had Merlin's insight, what could you tell the emperor Marcus Aurelius about the coming collapse of the Roman Empire, and how to avoid it?  That is the question raised and answered by Ugo Bardi, a professor of chemistry at the University of Firenze (Florence, Italy).  Prof. Bardi is also an active writer on the problem of "Peak Oil" and its consequences for our civilization.  His essay on Peak Civilization, delivered first as a talk to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, was reprinted by the Financial Sense blog here.  It runs 24 pages and bears a complete reading. 
Bronze sestertius of Marcus Aurelius.
Reverse: Minerva, goddess of war and wisdom, holding her owl.
Prof. Bardi's thesis is that the Middle Ages were the cure for the collapse of the Roman empire.  He makes a good case; and it deserves investigation, because there is more behind the theory that he does not address, but which speaks to our civilization and what we can expect to be the cure for America's failing empire.

This is not new.  It is not mainstream reading, but it has been said before.  Basement Nukes the Consequences of Cheap Weapons of Mass Destruction by Erwin S. Strauss (Mason, Michigan: Loompanics Unlimited, 1980) asserted many of the same conclusions, though from different data.  Strauss earned a B.S. in physics from M.I.T. and is well-known in science fiction fandom.  His father was a diplomat; and Strauss grew up in Washington D.C.  (Wikipedia here).   For Strauss, gunpowder was the operative paradigm for the limitations of our empire.  Castle walls fell to cannonades.  The result was the nation-state which replaced the baronies and dukedoms of the Middle Ages.  In our time, according to Strauss, the inability of those nation-states to protect their people from cheap weapons of mass destruction will result in a world of gated communities, connected via telecommunication. 

In contrast and support, Ugo Bardi's thesis is that the Roman empire was at its limit in 180 AD: the emperor was camped on the frontier, fighting Germans.  The empire could not raise enough soldiers to defend the extensive borders; and so, it took on native auxiliaries.  The empire had grown by plundering gold and silver which went to pay the soldiers who extended the empire.  Once there were no more rich cities to drain, the money ran out.  Meanwhile, farmland was showing depletion.  As agriculture was contracting, the bureaucracy was growing: fewer sources of taxable income had to meet ever greater demands for taxes. 

The solution for Rome, according to Prof. Bardi?  Give up the extensive empire: disband the armies and turn them into civic militas to defend locales.  Stop cultivating old lands: plant trees; let the land recover.  Disband the bureaucracy.  Reduce taxes.  The result: the Middle Ages.  Localized communities, invested in themselves and their own defense, carried civilization forward.

The medieval cities were strong because they offered new opportunities.  "Stadtluft macht frei" - City air makes you free.  Max Weber's monograph The City (1921) describes a medieval society very familiar to Americans: a society of legally equal citizens, based on trades and crafts, where the citizen militia was armed with guns.  Whereas the manor was afiliated with a monastery, the city housed a university. 

Even after the nominal "fall" of Rome in 476 AD, Latin lived as the common language of Europe even into the 19th century.  (Carl Friedrich Gauss published Theoria residuorum biquadraticorum, Commentatio secunda in 1832.)  In the High Middle Ages of the 12th century the "Aquitaine Renaissance" brought new literary flourishes to common Latin.  The Roman Catholic Church, of course, also continued some old traditions: when Diocletian reorganized the Roman empire in 297-299, he created the diocese as an administrative unit.  And, in answer to Bardi's plea via Merlin to Marcus Aurelius, the bureaucracy was pledged at least nominally to austerity.  The Italian Renaissance of the quattrocento revived much from classical antiquity, of course, but added something wholly modern, even unique in history to that time: individualism.  

The fine art medal was invented by Antonio di Puccio Pisano in 1439.  Today, the standard catalog of Renaissance medals is called, appropriately enough, The Currency of Fame.  Not only was that attitude contrary to the Christian doctrine of humility, it would have shocked the Romans of the Republic who made crimes of both ambition and consumption.

As things continue, they change.  There is no surprise in that.

What, then, does the future hold for our empire?  Certainly, contraction.  Taxation must recede: there is no more to be looted.  Six of the 25 richest suburbs in American today are outside Washington D.C. (See Forbes magazine here.)   They have money, but they create no wealth.  Obviously, that cannot continue. 

  The new institution of the Middle Ages was the castle guarding a manor and estates.  That, too, had roots in the Roman empire.  In our future, the institution to replace the nation-state has grown past its roots: the corporation
Corporate money, good on corporate grounds.
Corporations go back to Rome; and the laws which empowered medieval universities as legally independent entities come from there, also.  But the modern corporation, the joint stock company, is a creature of modern capitalism.  Corporations can do what governments cannot: generate wealth.  Globalist corporations independent of weakening nation-states can bring stability.  Economically diversified and geographically distributed corporations are at once flexible and governable.  But the future is not so much about terran geography as it about the virtual terrain of cyberspace.

The operative resilience of such a society is that not everyone needs to be in a corporation.  Indeed, they cannot.  Historically, the independent merchant has been at the mercy of guardians who both protected and plundered: you could pay a robber baron's toll or take your chances through Robin Hood's forest.  In a new world of global enterprise, connected in cyberspace, the independent creator can trade for profit in a virtual world where the might that makes right is available to anyone with a three-digit IQ and three fingers of forehead.   Home-based technologies that we only now see outlined such as molecular manufacturing and nanotechnology will be eclipsed by intellectual crafts we cannot even predict. 

Corporate money that is transferable -
especially when cash would be awkward.
Between now and then, however, we must endure the modern equivalents of Visigoths and Huns. 

But it is not the end of the world.  It never is.  In the November 2009 issue of The Celator, I placed an article about the great fairs of medieval Champagne.  Research for that revealed to me a so-called "Dark Ages" rich with trade.  The courts of Charlemagne and English kings were in contact with the Muslim east.  Merchants carried the goods.  Trade was encumbered by risk and adversity... but when is it not?
From 1934: A B&O Railroad certificate held by Credit Suisse.
Cities existed millennia before Rome became the city that ruled an empire; and cities will continue, of course. Nation-states will continue, as well.  Global markets will continue.  Outer space will be explored and colonized, certainly orbital space.  The seabeds will be colonized.  The Arctic and Antarctic will be settled. The future will be shaped by corporations. 

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS
Capitalist Culture
Monsters from the Id
Art & Copy

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Counterfeiting and the Tragedy of the Commons

It does not take much research to read far too much about the glut of counterfeit numismatic materials manufactured in China and sold on eBay.  Chinese counterfeit factories purchased old U.S. Mint equipment, old dies, and other tools.  Their work destroyed the markets in Seated Liberty coins and Trade Dollars, but any coin, even the most common, is a potential target.  Not surprisingly, some have faked the certifcation holders of PCGS and NGC. At conventions and shows, numismatists display educational exhibits of counterfeit coins in real holders and bogus coins in  bogus holders.  The federal government does nothing. 

On the other hand, ahead of the Super Bowl, enforcement against phony NFL gear is vigorous.
So far this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other agencies participating in "Operation Interception" have confiscated 36,273 counterfeit trademarked items nationwide, with more expected through the weekend. The value of the haul thus far: more than $3.56 million.   (Full story from CNN.com for February 5, 2011, is here.)
This is an example of the tragedy of the commons.  The NFL trademarks belong to someone.  Those someones are also wealthy.  So, they get the government to pay attention when they are victimized, and rightfully so.  With collectible numismatic material, no one owns the images and designs.  (One exception is the Sacagawea Dollar, owned by artist Glenna Goodacre, and licensed to the U.S. Mint.)

Of course, counterfeiting an old silver dollar is also a federal offense: money is money; and all federal money is the lawful obligation of the U.S. Treasury, no matter how old it is.  With some exceptions, such as Gold Notes, all U.S. money is legal tender.  But, of course, no one spends rolls of 1872 Seated Dollars or even 1922 Morgans.  So, the actual threat to the govenment is minimal: individual collectors take the losses.  The real threats are from counterfeit paper money; and the Federal Reserve is a private institution.  By comparison, the Bank of England is also like our Fed, nominally private, with a government-appointed board of governors.  Bank of England money carries a copyright notice.  Counterfeiting is a crime, not so much because it wrong to defraud people - though there is that - but mostly because it transgresses the intellectual property of the banks.  Since no banks issue Bust Dollars or Capped Bust Half Dollars, enforcement is lax.

This story from About.Com exposing a Chinese counterfeiting factory dates to April 2, 2008.  The Collectors Universe message board (NASDAQ symbol CLCT) for September 27, 2009, carried a summary (read here) of Dr. Gregory V. DuBay's talk at that summer's ANA convention in Philadelphia, revealing more about the depth and breadth of numismatic counterfeits from China.  His system for classifying Chinese dies was included as an appendix in the first edition of the  Red Book Professional Edition, but was deleted from the second edition.  I spoke on the same subject at the ANA convention in Pittsburgh in 2004.  The information I presented was not new or original with me: I only gathered examples from others... and all too easily... 

This is a known problem.  Nothing is done because no one owns it.