Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, April 30, 2021

A couple of recommended reads and critical thinking lesson #79

First, I commend to your attention Johnathan Gruber and Simon Johnson on infrastructure. You may have noticed that the Republican response to the administration's infrastructure proposal is that "infrastructure" only means roads and bridges and therefore the rest of it is unworthy of federal support. That's an example of argument by vocabulary, a type of fallacy that I've noted before. e.g.:

"Organic" means carbon compounds.

All food consists of carbon compounds.

Ergo the concept of organic food is meaningless.


If I need to explain to you what's wrong with that, you probably should give someone your power of attorney. As Gruber and Johnson assert, "Infrastructure is the name given to shared systems that underpin productivity and make it possible to create good jobs at high wages." In the post-war era, U.S. government investment in basic science paid immense dividends:

By the mid-1960s, the US government was spending nearly 2% of GDP on public science investments – and the returns were extraordinary. Every tech giant of today stands on the shoulders of federal investments in research and development (R&D). On the health side, the honor roll begins with large-scale production of antibiotics in the 1940s, and stretches to the Human Genome Project in the 1990s and the COVID-19 vaccines of today.These investments in science did not just change the way we solve problems and save lives; they also created countless good jobs. The genomics sector that arose from the Human Genome Project now employs around 270,000 people at an average annual wage of $70,000. Every dollar invested in the National Institutes of Health creates more than $8 in complementary private investment and yields three dollars of stock-market value to share prices of companies that use the technology developed.

But now federal spending on science has fallen to 0.6% of GDP, placing the U.S. 12th in the world. China's investment is at twice the level. There's more in the infrastructure bill that's essential to keeping the U.S. economy strong in the 21st Century, but that's one important piece.


Nicole Hemmer writes about living in a world of lies.  She's an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia (hey, that's what I am at a different university). She notes that starting with the escalator descent at Trump Tower in 2015, 


From exhaustive fact checks to contentious briefing-room clashes over the administration's "alternative facts," debunking the whirl of lies became a full-time process and started derailing pressing long-term conversations. But as the past few weeks have shown, the mendacity that once seemed like a feature of politics in the age of Trump has outlived the former president's Twitter feed.

The past week alone has featured increasingly ridiculous false claims issuing from the right. There's the one about the Biden administration taking away Americans' hamburgers. And the one about the White House giving gift bags with the vice president's book to migrant children -- that one was effectively retracted by the New York Post and the reporter resigned, saying she was forced to write a false story.


She goes on to discuss the difficulty journalism as it is conventionally practiced has in dealing with the shameless mendacity of the right. It's worth your time to read it.


Now, although Dr. Hemmer is a scholar and an employee of Columbia University, this essay happens to appear in CNN. I am often unhappy with CNN -- they relentlessly promoted the Trump Candidacy in 2016 as a matter of fact, because it was good for ratings. But they do have a basic commitment to the truth.

Now let us suppose that you come across a video purporting to be a hidden camera interview with an unwitting interlocutor named Chuck U. Farley. The presenters -- consisting only of an obscure right wing web site, a Russian propaganda organ, and two Murdoch-owned tabloids -- purport that Farley is a "technical director" at CNN, whatever exactly that means, and that he is being interviewed by a spy who is pretending to be a nurse of something. Farley says that he took a job at CNN because they were committed to making Joe Biden president and he wanted to be a part of that. Specifically the way they did that is by reporting favorably on Biden's health and suggesting that Trump's wasn't so great, and that was decisive in the election. (Of course these media organs all claim that Trump actually won the election but we'll put that aside for now.)

If you are a person with the least bit of skepticism, you might want to check this out. CNN lists all of its executives on a readily accessible web page, maybe 24 people. None is named Chuck U. Farley. On a separate page, it lists all of its on-air presenters, reporters, and producers. None of them is named Chuck U. Farley. If you enter Chuck's name into your favorite Internet search engine, you will find a dead British comedian, and these five presentations of the hidden camera interview story, and that is it. No such person appears to exist outside of this hermetic environment. Even more curious, this blockbuster story has not been picked up any other outlet, including Faux News. CNN has not bothered to comment on it. 

Maybe, just maybe, you've been duped.

1 comment:

Chucky Peirce said...

Regarding our R&D budgets, schooling support, and inequality:

We're eating our seed corn.