Monday, December 16, 2013

The Role of Science in Public Policy

I have taken a while off this blog while I was changing jobs and moving to a different state. Lately I have done a lot of reading and research on how science can effect our public policy and how "good science" does not equal "good policy". The gap often applies because of poor understanding of scientific methods or outdated ideas. For this post I will focus on two large policy issues, global warming and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). There are many other issues, but these two have seen much time in the press and should be familiar to most readers.

Global warming research and GMO research have been going for decades a piece. Several models and studies have been done on each to determine the validity and safety of both concerns. I will not discuss the merits of either case, just the mind boggling application of policy to these two issues with vastly different scientific reasoning.

Global warming models have been proven to be from a guess at best to patently false. The peer reviewed studies that are available are not conclusive as to a cause for global warming. While many, if not all, agree that warming is occurring, it is not at the rate suggested by many (a rate used to guide policy). However, global policy has been crafted based on this "science". This is major policy being based on results that aren't reproducible or reliable (two key components for any good scientific experiment). For example, gravity is accepted because it always works and anyone can get the results from it. If we let go of an object, it will fall. This principle cannot be applied to global warming. We can test the theories on global warming and they do not hold. To compare to gravity, it would be like dropping an object and sometimes it will fall, other times it stays still, and yet other times it flies up. The "science" of global warming is not science at all. It is skewed statistics and poor models that can't past rigorous testing. Despite the lack of evidence, vast billions in direct costs and in regulations have been designed to address this issue.

GMO crops may still yet hold unseen dangers. More time will be needed to see long term effects on health and nature. However, studies across the world by multiple labs have all not found any negative effects on human health. This isn't proof there is no effect, just that there is a high likelihood the effect doesn't exist or is negligible. The politics of large corporations controlling food supply I will pass over as it does not deal with the main issue of science guiding policy. GMO health studies can be replicated and yield expected results (despite numerous efforts to disprove them). To compare to gravity, these studies say the object will fall and it does. Despite this better and more rigorously tested science, policy is not crafted based on it. Current policy around the world is designed to restrict and limit, despite what the science suggests.

It is mind boggling to see large governments or government bodies crafting legislation based on ideas that are largely unproven and restricting other products that have been tested. This is a bet, that with the national debt ever rising, we cannot afford to take. Science allows for mankind to try and understand the universe we live in. Its not perfect, but can be a great tool if used wisely to craft policy. We need to stop basing policy on bad science and craft policy only on something that can be tested and reliably reproduced. If we continue to base our spending and policy on a science that is flawed, it will ultimately be a waste of money; a waste that we cannot afford to keep paying.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

We Built This or We Make It Possible?

With the conventions going on, both political parties have seized upon the comments by President Obama concerning who is responsible for building up the economy and businesses. The GOP has responded with "We Built This" and has seen a successful campaign with this slogan and with this issue. The Democrats have responded in kind with "We Make It Possible."So which claim is correct and which will resonate the most with voters in November?

The "We Make It Possible" argument makes sense on the surface, but is ultimately flawed. The argument is that government provides roads, education, and other services that are vital to businesses to survive. And this is true and valid. However, where did the government get the money to build and provide? That money has come from the people. The government doesn't just give away roads and education. Those services are provided by tax dollars paid by the citizens. These taxes may come in the form of income, property, capital gains, and many other taxes. However, all revenue for the government comes from taxes on the people. So, while the government paid the checks for the projects, we as citizens, put money in the account for the government to spend.

The GOP argues "We Built This." This argument is much more valid. Small business owners across the country have invested their own time and money and they are solely responsible for the success and failure of their business. The government won't end if a small business fails, but the owner will have to face the consequences. The government provides infrastructure for many businesses to succeed. However, these same small business owners and their customers are the ones paying taxes that allow the government to provide that infrastructure.

So, the people not only make it possible, they also built it. To give credit to a government is taking the power away from the people who supply and trust the government with their funds.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Global Warming: A Sensible Solution

I recently read an article stating that the CO2 emissions are at a 20 year low. I do have a scientific background and I agree that the Earth is heating up, and that a portion of this may be due to man's interference. However, I will not discuss or debate the extent or the problem that this may cause in this article (if you want a discussion on that, comment below). What can be accepted is that many governments find CO2 emissions to be a problem and have spent billions of dollars to counteract this perceived problem. Until recently, there was only marginal success at best for these efforts to curb emissions or to use other "alternative fuels" (again, if you want a discussion that...comment and I'll make one). The surprise from this story and to many big government thinkers is that the drop to a 20 year low was NOT from a huge government program, it was due to the market!

Wait, you mean that capitalist market that gets the reputation for not caring about the environment or the effect of industry on the environment? You mean that same market has actually come through and made a difference? And the simple answer is yes. The market has shifted to make cleaner burning natural gas cheaper than the dirtier burning of coal. The market has shifted to the cleaner source of energy and has done so primarily due to market forces and not to government forces. Despite the heavy meddling of government that produces limited results, the market has moved and provided less C02 emissions.

From this, it should be seen the sensible approach to CO2 and other emissions that governments, rightfully or wrongfully, wish to reduce. The market has to lean towards a cheap and viable alternative. Money spent on expensive alternative energy could be used to feed our poor or promote peace or other worthy goals. People tend to want to do the healthy option, the market just has to move to give it to them. So, more emphasis should be put on letting the market work to solve our problems rather than trying to force the market to accept more expensive and subsidized forms of energy. Ultimately, we all make decisions based on cost. And it is these decisions that move the markets. When a clean energy is made competitive in the market, it will succeed...but if it remains expensive and subsidized, it will not. Natural gas is where the market has moved now, whats next?

Here is the article I read if you want to see it:

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Science and Engineering in America. Are We Behind?

Over the years I have read many articles and studies suggesting that the U.S.A is behind in science and math education and that we are not producing enough engineers. This was part of the big reason I studied hard in school  in math and science and got a high ACT score to get into a great university. I studied Chemical Engineering and got a B.S. in that field in 2011. When I started the major, the class sizes for seniors was around 60. Today, that class size is over 100. There is a great deal of interest in chemical engineering,and other math and science fields, among many young men and women.

However, there are not jobs for these newly graduated engineers. With all of the talk saying we need more engineers, not enough has been done to ensure that the engineers we have and create can even work in this great country. Since I graduated I took a contract job as a chemist at a low salary just to work. I had a good  GPA and had previous experience in a chemical engineering lab. After that contract, I have been unemployed and actively applying to over 60 jobs. I had a few interviews, but was mostly deemed not to have enough experience.

How can the government say we don't have enough science and math professionals in this country when they can't provide for the current number? The economic recession caused many experience engineers to seek jobs they were overqualified for and have taken positions that would normally go to new graduates. So....

  • Is our education system failing?
    • No! We are producing many smart and talented engineers and class sizes are growing.
  • Are business failing in math and science?
    • Yes! They are focused on hiring only highly experienced engineers and paying them less because the market is tight for jobs. This gives up any talent development for young engineers who could have a longer future with companies.
  • Is the government failing?
    • Absolutely! The emphasis has been put on more teachers and more education. My view is this may have to do with teachers unions...but that is a different story. The real problem is the lack of incentive for businesses to create jobs for graduates in math and science.
So what do we do? We need to have more incentives for companies to hire new engineers and scientists and to retain their current experienced engineers. We need to stop saying we need more investment in education for science and math when we can teach these students already, but can't provide a future for them. There is no point in spending the money on the education if we cannot support them and make use of that investment in the economy. So, we need less emphasis on the education and more emphasis on the engineering jobs until there is a real shortage in industry. A shortage to me would be when less than one person is not academically fit for the job. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gun Control in a Modern World

Gun control is an often reported controversy dividing political parties, cities and families. The first law that dealt with gun control was the 2nd Amendment. It took over 200 years for the Supreme Court to rule in 2008 in District of Columbia vs. Heller that this amendment gives the right to own a firearm. This is important as many critics site the formation of a militia as a key condition to gun ownership (this would be similar to the system used in Switzerland). However, the court has ruled and at least some form of gun ownership is allowed for all American citizens.

There are millions of safe and responsible gun owners in the U.S. The number of gun related crimes relative to the number of total guns owned is less than a fraction of 1 percent.  (See for more statistics). This means that a large portion of the gun crime is committed in a very small minority of gun owners. Attempts have been made to reduce these gun deaths by restricting the sale of guns and requiring background checks. However, criminals always find ways to gain an advantage over rivals and to gain weapons illegally. While these methods have some value, they are not the only solution. 

A large portion of gun crimes and gun related crimes can be traced to drugs, alcohol, and other addiction/substance abuse problems. Gun use in gangs and criminal organizations has been commonplace for over a century (think Al Capone). Perhaps, the restrictions and enforcement should focus on dealing with the underlying issues in gun violence, rather than on the guns itself. While the U.S. has a higher than average gun crime rate, the rate for assaults and robberies are on par with similar countries. What this means is that in violent crimes in other countries, bladed or blunt weapons are used instead of guns. And yet, you don't see the call to ban knives or baseball bats.

To solve the issue of gun control, one will have more success if the focus is placed on prevention of situations in which improper gun use could result. This could mean more money spent on tackling drugs, gangs, domestic violence, and other problems where guns may be used. The Supreme Court has ruled and guns are here to stay. Now, the emphasis must be placed on preventing situations where improper gun use is the highest. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Syria and Lybia: Tale of Two Countries

With the recent devastation and loss of life in Syria, many have wondered why the response of the international community has been so tame compared to a similar situation in Libya. The simple answer is Syria has an ally on the U.N. Security Council with veto powers, while Libya did not. Libya was an oil producer and was much closer to European shipping lanes. However, Syria is in the Middle East with little effect on European shipping routes and trade. Furthermore, Syria is a long-time and ardent ally of Russia and a mass importer of Russian weapons and supplies. And herein lies the problem. Russia has used its veto on every resolution that could lead to the use of force. It should be noted that China has followed Russia's lead on this situation.

And so, Russia has prevented the use of force and outside intervention in Syria, but had no objection with Libya. The only apparent difference between the two tends to be Russia's billions of dollars in sales of arms and long standing treaties with the dictatorship of the Assad ruling family. However, there must come a time in international relations, where the past must be set aside when the human cost is so great. International law and common humanity dictate that the severe loss of human life and crimes against humanity trump trade and old alliances. Hopefully Russia will be softened by the severe condition of the Syrian people and allow international aid to help the people who are victims on either side of the raging conflict. The people of Syria should be allowed to choose their rulers and to speak freely without the fear of death and torture. Until Russia and China stop using veto powers on the U.N. Security Council, it appears that the only option for many Syrians is to flee and hope for the best.

Friday, July 13, 2012

President Obama First Term Foreign Policy Grades

President Obama Foreign Policy Grades

For this post I have decided to grade key foreign policy aspects of President Obama's presidency. Grades are shown below. (Guide to grades: A-Great Performance, B-Average Performance, C-Below Average Performance, D-Dreadful Performance, F-Failure)

Secretary of State: Grade: A. 

The choice of Hillary Clinton is the key to the President's foreign policy. Having had little experience in foreign affairs, choosing a woman with vast international experience from her time as first lady and her work afterwards was a great move. She does not seem to back down on America's interest or apologize for America. The same cannot be said for the President however. But, his choice of Secretary of State was a brilliant move and she has proven a capable diplomat.

Israel: Grade: C-.

The President has not made Israel a top priority in his foreign policy agenda. Typically, Israel is a key ally and powerhouse of the U.S. Middle East foreign policy. Under this administration, the Israel-Palestine peace process has gone virtually no where and no large summits have been held on the issue. Granted, most summits are unsuccessful, but they show a willingness to try. The President needs to improve his support of Israel to ensure a strong U.S. foreign policy in the volatile region.

Venezuela: Grade: C

The President's recent remarks about Chavez have left many questioning how serious he takes the Venezuelan President Chavez. Chavez is a very important part of South American policy and his leftist views have influenced several other nations in South America. Furthermore, his strong support of Iran and the country's large fuel reserves make Chavez a force to be reckoned with. His influence in the region should be countered by a strong U.S. presence in the region to promote stability, transparent democracy, and free trade in the region.

North Korea:  Grade: B-

The changing of the ruler in North Korea provided an opening for the U.S. to assert its willingness to help the North Korean people to prosper. More should have been done to take advantage of this rare change in power in North Korea. Furthermore, tensions with South Korea including the sinking of a South Korean ship and shelling of an island killing South Koreans should have been met with a more forceful condemnation by the administration. However, this situation could have gotten out of hand very quickly and led to larger skirmishes and complications for U.S. pacific interests. A larger military conflict was averted and the tensions were defused with minimal loss of life. This must be commended. But, ultimately, the failure to act with a new leader in Korea should be seen as a mistake.

Iran/Syria: Grade: C-

The President has allowed Russia and China to stall most efforts by the U.S. to counter Iran's growing nuclear power. Furthermore, the influence of Iran in the Syria crisis and the failure of international bodies to act as innocent children and families are killed and ruined is a tragic failure. The President has not been effective in dealing with China or Russia in his foreign policy in relations to Iran and Syria. It should be made clear that old alliances and arms deals will not be tolerated with leaders who commit great acts of violence against their people. In addition, Iran must not be allowed to gain nuclear weapons with their current threats against Israel and U.S. military bases in the region. 

E.U.: Grade: C+

While remaining quite popular among the leaders of Europe, the President has done this at the cost of U.S. exceptionalism. Europe has long been a strong economic and diplomatic partner with the U.S. However, under the current administration, it seems that America is being brought to be equal to Europe, when it should be left as the prime country in the world. All countries should strive to first serve their own people before those in other countries. The President should remember that America is a great country and should always strive to keep our nation ahead of others. 

Overall: Grade: C

The President has done a substandard job in representing the interests of the U.S. abroad. In a push for equality, he has sacrificed diplomatic power that has been built up over the last century. America is a great nation and its interests should be vigorously defended at home and abroad.