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catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for May 2005

The psychopaths among us

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Now for something different. Futurepundit has written some pretty fascinating posts on research into the genetic bases of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder – the most recent one here and an earlier one here. It’s the second post which I find most interesting – the link to the original press release is here and here is an extract:

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Written by Admin

May 30, 2005 at 10:56 pm

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The science wars

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A prolonged exchange on the History and Philosophy of science (HOPOS) discussion group raised a number of issues under the heading of Science Wars and also Science Wars and Pluralism. With almost 800 members this list taps a broad range of opinion in the field and this is reflected in the diversity of comments. This is a sample:
1. The Science Wars appear to be over because the radical and POMO critics of science don’t have any useful place to go.
2. The Science Wars have been about questioning the grounds for claiming that science is the most privileged form of knowledge in society. Hardly any of mainstream science studies has been critical of science but it has been quite critical of philosophy of science. That’s not the same thing. Science studies produced accounts of science that frightened, alienated and angered scientists but that’s not the same as criticising them.
3. It is very hard to tell what impact the challenge to Science has had on scientists. Many have simply switched off the issue.
4. Many scientists have also switched off on the moral responsibility of scientists.
5. The denigration of science is still alive in some parts of the humanities, where “Two Cultures” concept is still popular and the “unmasking insights” of Marx and Freud are used to discredit science and also the motivation of scientists and the science establishment.
6. Many students coming to college and also a significant minority of practicing scientists and engineers have the idea that scientific knowledge is practically certain.
My general take on these matters is that many confusions and misunderstandings dissolve in a more adequate theory of science than the positivist/empiricist tradition, whether it was badged as British Empiricism, Vienna Logical Positivism or US Logical Empiricism.
The more helpful approach to scientific knowledge and its development mimics Darwinian evolution. Scientific knowledge can be viewed as an objective human construct and theories are like species that survive as long as they stand up to criticism. Actually they survive as a part of the history of ideas long after they are refuted or superseded, so the biological analogy is suggestive but it is not a compete fit.
In short, this is a theory of conjectural (fallible) knowledge that is objective, or at least a common property and open to inter-subjective testing and other forms of criticism.
Four forms of criticism can be identified (five if you count the test of metaphysics but that worries scientists so I will leave it for the moment).
1. Does the theory solve the problem or provide the explanation that is required?
2. Is the theory internally consistent?
3. Is the theory consistent with other well-tested theories?
4. Does the theory stand up to empirical tests?
Theories that make unsustainable claims for scientific theories, along the lines that they are “mathematically proved” or they have some numerical probability, are wide open to devastating rejoinders from all sides, from POMO, from relativists, and also from critical rationalists.
More modest and realistic claims are not vulnerable to the same criticisms, thought that does not mean giving any ground to creation scientists and the like.
This evening, if I survive the trip home and also dinner, I will hope to complete this post with some comments on each of the 6 points raised in the debate on HOPOS.

Written by Admin

May 30, 2005 at 4:54 pm

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IR opinion

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The ACTU has released the first opinion survey on the government’s industrial relations reforms. They have published their methodology and questions, as Mark Bahnisch insists they should. And from this we can see that it is a biased survey of ignorant people.

Of their 600 respondents, only 38% (228 persons) said that they had ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ knowledge of the reforms, compared to 37% who knew ‘hardly anything’ and 25% who knew ‘not much’. So their reactions are intuitive responses to what the pollsters tell them.

That makes the fact that few of the government’s arguments get a mention problematic – there is nothing about the possibility of more jobs, or an end to the ridiculous unfair dismissal decisions such as have been reported in the papers over the last few days (of the 17 agree/disagree propositions, only one on workplace productivity reflects a government claim).

In the issue of Policy that will be out next week, I have a go at analysing previous relevant public opinion polls. My basic findings were:

* since the mid-1980s, majority support for centralised wage fixing and awards has gone
* however, there is evidence that people support the award system for the minority of workers with weak market bargaining power (this is reflected in the government decision to retain a minimum wage)
* the vast majority of people think that their own jobs are safe – even those with the least job protection (casuals) have satisfaction with job security of 6.77 on a 0 to 10 scale, compared to 7.92 for permanent workers. This reflects the obvious fact that job security has little to do with legislation; it comes from workplace needs and market pressures (employers with reputations for aribitrary dismissal will find it harder to recruit)
* unemployment is at record lows in the ‘most important issues’ poll conducted by Roy Morgan Research, suggesting that the employment benefits of the reforms will have less resonance than in the past
* the government cannot play on anti-union sentiment in the way it once could – the proportion of people agreeing with the statement that unions have ‘too much’ power is also at a record low, with more people agreeing that business has too much power

My take: There is no evidence that most people have strongly ideological views on industrial relations. On this as in most things the electorate is pragmatic. If the results of these reforms are seen to be positive – if more jobs are created, arbitrary sackings remain rare, and real wages keep rising (whether there is any actual causal link won’t count for much outside academic seminars) they will be accepted. If not, they will be a liability for the government.

Written by Admin

May 30, 2005 at 1:47 pm

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Affluenza

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Clive Hamliton’s new book Affluenza: When Too Much Is Never Enough (co-authored by Richard Denniss) is out, and it is the usual puritanical Hamilton fare – consumerism, individualism, advertising, pornography, overwork, economic growth etc are all wicked and must be stopped. He adds in material from a recent Australia Institute publication about how much we waste, and how bad that is (to save Catallaxy readers wasting money on a book they they are unlikely to finish, the central arguments of Affluenza are summarised in a long extract in The Sunday Age).

As I noted in my review of Hamilton’s previous book, Growth Fetish, in common with many other anti-market writers Hamilton believes that supposed market values (materialism, self-interest, orientation to extrinsic goals) drive out other values.

This is the connotation of the metaphor-pun “affluenza”, a virus that kills off what is good in life. “The values of the market have penetrated the relationship between parents and children” he complains. ” Market ideology and consumerism appear to have a more powerful grip than ever before…” he alleges. Unless these trends are stopped “all aspects of our personal lives and social worlds [will be] turned over to the market”.

Of course advertisers are constantly trying to persuade us to buy their goods or services, but how invasive are ‘market values’? In that review of a couple of years ago, I set out several reasons why this critique of the market is greatly exaggerated, if not entirely wrong. Oddly, though, there is more evidence against the colonising power of the market in Affluenza.

For example, it reports a survey in which large majorities in every income group say that Australian society is “too materialistic”. So “market values” and consumerism are pervasive and most people think that there is too much materialism? Another survey Hamilton cites that found that 75% of people nominated more time with friends and family as a way to improve their quality of life, while only 38% nominated more money.

Hamilton thinks that Australians are ‘”deeply ambivalent about the contradiction” that supposedly exists between these statements and their consumer spending. But there is another plausible explanation – that most people keep money and material goods in perspective, that they are one part of overall well-being (common sense that accords with the empirical evidence). As Hamilton – or maybe this is co-author Richard Denniss – acknowledges a couple of times in the book, consuming itself is not harmful (amazingly, even the idea that shopping can be fun is conceded – trust me, it is there on p.187). It is attitudes to consuming that make the difference; if you define yourself by material consumption or think it is enough for happiness then you are in trouble; otherwise not. Hamilton infers from consumer behaviour attitudes that are less common that he supposes.

This problem with his argument comes out again in the discussion of downshifters, people who consciously decide to take a lower income and lower level of consumption to pursue other life goals. Hamilton says that nearly one-quarter of adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s had downshifted in the decade prior to 2002. How pervasive can “market values” be when such a large minority opt-out?- especially as that is the decade in which Hamilton claims that Australia was “infected by affluenza”. Again, Hamilton’s own evidence suggests that people retain a sense of perspective, that lives can get out of balance and less priority should be given to making money (consistent with the earlier survey, more time with family was the most common reason given for downshifting).

Hamilton, the ascetic happy to do without, is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the sad shopaholic, with bags full of goods she will never use and a credit card debt she can never repay. Each in their own way lack balance and perspective.

Written by Admin

May 29, 2005 at 9:39 pm

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Quiz for Sunday

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Via Stack I found this quiz called ‘What is your worldview?’. My results are not surprising but I’m somewhat doubtful of the claim that 50 per cent of Americans share my world view unless it means 50 per cent of Americans in New York or Massachusetts or something like that:

You scored as Modernist. Modernism represents the thought that science and reason are all we need to carry on. Religion is unnecessary and any sort of spirituality halts progress. You believe everything has a rational explanation. 50% of Americans share your world-view

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May 29, 2005 at 10:51 am

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One for the conspiracy theorists

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According to Tex, the daughter of the sainted Che Guevara will be doing her apologetics for everyone’s favourite authoritarian regime at the Sydney Masonic Centre tomorrow. A stranger juxtaposition I have yet to see.

Written by Admin

May 28, 2005 at 12:05 am

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A word or two about industrial relations

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In response to popular demand for less New Idea content on the site, here is a somewhat provocative talk from Des Moore on the reasons for a serious shake-up of the industrial relations system.
This is a summary of Moore’s major points.
This is an address by Roger Kerr on the New Zealand experience of labour market deregulation.
And this is the Henry Thornton site with the above items and a great many more on this topic.

A message from Roger Kerr.

First, no one should underestimate the importance of a free and flexible labour market as a key requirement of a well-performing economy. It is one of the ‘big ticket’ items. Labour costs represent around two-thirds of the costs of production in our economies. If Australia and New Zealand are to be successful in facing the challenges of international competition, businesses must be able to deploy such an expensive resource efficiently and there must be strong incentives for work and skill formation. I would nominate an efficient labour market alongside openness to trade and small government/low taxes as the ‘Holy Trinity’ of policies for economic growth. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Admin

May 26, 2005 at 4:07 pm

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