Another Sandy Smith Pops Up to Sully My Name

By complete coincidences, I found both of these items on the intarwebz today.

First, a namesake who’s a “psychic, medium, and animal communicator.” Because maintaining the skill to plausibly “read” real people is too much, you have to go after the clients who can’t refute your bullshit. If the victims weren’t so mind-bogglingly stupid, I’d feel worse about them being taken advantage of by a harpie charlatan.

As if in commentary, my RSS reader gave me this cartoon from the wonderful xkcd:

Supernatural forces confirmed by experiment: 0. Supernatural forces disproven by experiment: thousands

Last-Second Macworld Prediction

Given that the consensus is that Apple will introduce an ultra-portable notebook computer to fill the void left by the 12-inch PowerBook, I predict the return of this offering will be turned down by my Mac-h8r pal Jason who always would buy a Mac “except for” one of the following reasons:

  1. Too expensive
  2. Won’t play my games
  3. If only it had $FOO technology
  4. Not enough default storage (subset of 1)

My bet is #1 above.

(This post may not be entirely serious and may be intended just to get a rise out of Jason… 😉 )

What Have You Changed Your Mind About?

Via Slashdot, I was pointed to the Edge Foundation’s annual question to that effect, put to a cadre of scientists and science-oriented writers and other intellectuals. The stuff is fascinating.

It stirred another question in me, though: what would the same article look like if asked of a bunch of religion and traditional liberal arts professors? Would they be clever rhetorical “I’ve changed my mind that the Bush administration is capable of no more evil than it has already committed” or honest reassessments? I’m especially curious if ardent professional theists–seminarians, theologians, pastors, imams, etc.–would have meaningful things to say.

To me, the possibility of being completely wrong is one of the reasons science has been so successful as a human endeavor. In fact, the capability of reassessing and admitting you are mistaken is one of the attributes I look for in someone to hire. I don’t need people who are going to doggedly keep doing the wrong thing. I want someone to realize that their preconceived idea was wrong, and more importantly, are willing to admit it and change it.

What have I changed my mind about? I used to think that conservatives were unfairly painted as motivated by racism. While I think the race card is still overplayed, I have come to see a lot of what conservatives believe in social issues as at least tainted by racist attitudes, even if they aren’t active hatemongers. Not that they’re the only ones, but they are much more guilty of it than they’re willing to admit to themselves.

I was a global warming skeptic until the late 90s. Once the satellite measurements were corrected, I had to change my mind. And now that alternative causes have been thoroughly tested and falsified, I’ve had to conclude that we’re causing it with CO2 emissions.

I used to think that people were capable of living in a pure market economy with no welfare state whatsoever. While I still think it would work, I don’t think humans are psychologically capable of living (peacefully) without some sort of welfare net. I still worry that we’re insufficiently humble about the power of humans to outguess the market. Too few of us are willing to recognize that any time you help one person, you hurt another or several others. It’s made me pessimistic that we’re doomed to kill the golden goose of the market until the next time it’s reborn out of desperation and bloody revolution. I’m not yet convinced that’s inevitable, though, so it’s worth trying to stop it.

What have you changed your mind about?

Recycling Is a Slight Greenhouse Gas Reducer

My friend Casey helpfully pointed to a study from a well-respected author, though working at an environmental organization. I snip the following from Table 8 of his piece:

Total US emissions reduced by recycling (%) 1.5 9.0

These are the main greenhouse gasses (after water vapor, which stirs another thought, but we’ll get to that later), and recycling saves 1.5% CO2 over what they would otherwise be. That’s nearly a rounding error, and probably close to his confidence interval, but we can say it’s at worst a wash with a less serious greenhouse gas being reduced noticeably (CH4 at 9%).

So recycling is a net win, albeit a slight one, for greenhouse gas reduction.

That question settled, it brings to mind another question. Since it’s also fairly settled that, aside from aluminum, recycling always costs more than virgin production, the question turns to one of political economy: what is the opportunity cost of recycling? What other uses could the money spent on recycling be put, and would they get a bigger reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than recycling?

I’m not arguing anybody should stop recycling. All else being equal, it’s irresponsible not to recycle as much as you can. As an individual, using virgin products and landfilling your trash will definitely make your summers hotter and your weather more unpredictable.

Nevertheless, the public policy question of recycling versus other uses for the money should be asked, and answered with a view to the likelihood of implementing alternatives. If we could theoretically pump money into sequestration projects and reduce more atmospheric CO2 than simply by recycling, it’s still pointless to stop recycling if the political capacity to transfer all those locally-spent funds to sequestration isn’t there.

But if we’re serious about global warming, it’s a good question to ask and answer.