2010-06-28

Gender-based affirmative action in science & engineering education

It would appear that science and engineering schools have been trying fairly hard to boost the percentage of women in their programs.

The politically correct take on the gender imbalance in science & technology programs seems to be that it's just a failure of marketing:
“The way engineering traditionally has been marketed doesn’t appeal as much to women as to men,” said Carrie-Ann Miller, director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at Stony Brook University
This whole issue seems like small potatoes at first glance. But could gender-based affirmative action in science & technology education (and employment) have unintended consequences? An Instapundit commenter writes:
I work for a very large high tech company. I presently manage a research team in the corporate lab. The problem is that there is no encouragement for American non-minority males to go into science and engineering because we will almost never hire them. Instead we are being forced to look for technical females and under-represented minorities. Since very few American females choose engineering, we end up hiring Chinese and Indian women. The universities that I work with tell me that they find it almost impossible to recruit American males to PhD programs. I believe within less than a generation we will be in deep trouble, technically, in this country, and we’ll be without the means and capability to maintain the highly sophisticated civilization that we’ve constructed.

2010-06-27

Del. Mike Smigiel critiques Maryland LCV's scorecard

Some highlights:

He wonders what an early voting bill has to do with the environment:
three years ago, in the 2005 – 2006 “scorecard” the League rated legislators on whether they were good or bad environmentalist based on how they voted on the “early voting bill” (SB-478) and a second score was given on whether the legislators voted to over ride the Governor’s veto on the “early voting bill”. . . . it is no accident that these two votes, which have nothing to do with the environment, were rated as pro environmental votes to make sure Republicans got at least two more bad votes on the environment than their Democratic counterparts.
He goes on to note another bias in LCV's scorecard that is less obvious but no less egregious:
the League of Conservation Voters does something inexplicable that usually will help Democrats and hurt Republicans. The League of Conservation Voters is only counting the first vote on bills and not the later vote on the same bill, after amendments, which is passed and then sent to the governor for his signature, where it then becomes law. It would seem if your intent is tell the public where a legislator is on the environment it would be better to tell them where he or she ended up and not where they started out. It is much more likely that Democrats would vote for a bill that is full of what Republicans may consider to be excessive regulations or taxes when it is first introduced. It is usually after a public hearing and an opportunity to amend bills in committee and on the floor that Republicans would come on board and find that the bill, having gone through compromise, is now acceptable.

2010-06-14

"How to Think About Oil Spills"

Stephen Hayward gathers relevant facts:
Over the last 50 years, offshore drilling spills, including the Deepwater Horizon, have unleashed a little more than 1 million tons of oil; tanker accidents have spilled 4 million. For every offshore drilling spill, there have been seven tanker spills, many much larger than the Exxon Valdez, only the 40th largest tanker spill on record.
He writes without hysteria and points to relevant studies
The ecological effects of the Ixtoc 1 disaster should be borne in mind when we hear claims that the Deepwater spill will inflict large and long-lasting effects. According to a 1981 study by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, about half of the Ixtoc 1 oil evaporated, and another 25 percent sank to the bottom of the ocean, much of it broken up by wave action and chemical dispersants.
...

A recent study of seven basic ecosystem types, and their most typical perturbations, found that of ecosystems that make a recovery from various catastrophic events (and, it must be noted, not all do), ocean ecosystems disrupted by oil spills were the fastest to recover, often within a span of one to four years.
He speculates reasonably:
While we still don’t know the precise cause of the failure of the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon (a technology that has successfully prevented spills in more than 150 offshore drilling accidents over the last 40 years), early accounts suggest that the same factors that cause most airplane crashes came into play: complacency and sloppy maintenance.
And he comes to sensible conclusions:
As some environmentalists have come to regret, the limitation of nuclear power after 1979 resulted in the expansion of coal-fired electricity instead, but coal is now environmental enemy number one because of its high greenhouse gas emissions. A halt to offshore drilling now would be equally ill-advised.
...
In short, there is considerable risk that overreaction to the BP/Deepwater spill will have second-order environmental impacts that could be cumulatively worse than the spill itself, both for the Gulf and for other environmental arenas.

2010-06-10

Another reason to vote Ehrlich over O'Malley

The mainstream left, which O'Malley personifies, tends to flunk Econ 101.

Partly because their rhetoric on jobs, unemployment, regulation and so tends to fly in the face of basic economic principles.

2010-06-07

The gaping chasm on jobs policy between Ehrlich and O'Malley

If this bit from Len Lazarick at MarylandReporter.com isn't a clear and significant difference between Bob Ehrlich and Martin O'Malley, I don't know what is:

Republican Ehrlich favors an approach that calls for government to get out of the way of business, cutting taxes and reducing regulations – or at least making them more consistent and business-friendly.

Democrat O’Malley seeks to show what government has done to foster job and business growth by getting involved. He talks about tax credits, spending on education, cracking down on predatory business practices and overcoming the state’s “pathological modesty” about its positive business environment.

The proper role of government in job creation has only two steps:

  1. Make the tax structure and regulatory environment as simple, minimal and predictable as possible while still accomplishing the basic/core/necessary tasks of government.
  2. Step aside and let the private sector create the jobs.

If you care about the economy, employment and job creation, please vote for Ehrlich. To donate or volunteer for his campaign, go here.


2010-06-06

"Higher education's bubble is about to burst"

Glenn Reynolds has an excellent essay up at the Examiner.

The buyers think what they're buying will appreciate in value, making them rich in the future. The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive, but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy.

Buyers see that everyone else is taking on mounds of debt, and so are more comfortable when they do so themselves; besides, for a generation, the value of what they're buying has gone up steadily. What could go wrong? Everything continues smoothly until, at some point, it doesn't.

Yes, this sounds like the housing bubble, but I'm afraid it's also sounding a lot like a still-inflating higher education bubble.

...

Things haven't collapsed yet, but they're looking shakier -- kind of like the housing market looked in 2007.

For insights on a possible future in post-bubble academia, Glenn points to a book called DIY U. by Any Kamenetz (4 stars on Amazon):
My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether -- as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, "DIY U" -- the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of "edupunks" who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.
UPDATE: Another book by Curtis Bonk seems to have a similar message (and gets more stars on Amazon): The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. From an Amazon reviewer:
Bonk shows us that transformative change is coming, and it won't be stopped. He explains that technology, openness, and unprecedented access to knowledge are removing control of the learning process from institutions and placing it into the hands of the individual. This change is nothing short of revolutionary.

A riveting narrative, "The World is Open" will undoubtedly draw comparison to Friedman's seminal work "The World is Flat," but this book is perhaps more important.


Does organic farming have an "enormous carbon footproot"

Gary Jones thinks it does, as do others that he points to:
Organic farming is not the best option from a climate change point of view.
. . .
Farms only represent ~2% of US CO2 emissions but around a third of the anthropogenic methane (a gas which is 21-24 times as potent as a greenhouse gas) and nearly 80% of the anthropogenic nitrous oxide (295-310 times as potent as CO2).
. . .
a major climate change advantage almost universally claimed for Organic (no fossil energy to produce the N), actually represents a carbon footprint that is enormous.

2010-06-05

2010-06-04

Andrew Breitbart as "Rage Machine": a slanted profile in the New Yorker

Rebecca Mead's article on Andrew Breitbart is unfair and one-sided. She disdains him. Her revulsion can be guessed at just from the title (Rage Machine), but the adjectives she uses remove any doubt.

If you take her text, remove the quotes, remove Breitbart's self-characterizations, and filter out everything else except the descriptive words that Mead herself uses to paint her picture of Breitbart, you find mostly words with overwhelmingly negative connotations. Here's the list:
"hostile"
"psychotic"
"bluster"
"petty"
"seething, sneering voice"
"outbursts"
"brazen, blustering provocation disorientingly couched as a reasoned response"
"cultivated oafishness
"constitutionally adversarial"
"out of line" and
"feverishly cluttered" (his main website)
When I think of Andrew, a very different set of words comes to mind: likable, energetic, clear, blunt, persistent, colorful, engaging, factual, intelligent, fair, articulate, perceptive, and quick.

The few times that Mead uses adjectives with positive connotations, she quickly undercuts them with "buts":
  • She describes him as "effective", but it's due to his "rhetoric" and "comic demagoguery" (with the implication that he is fooling or tricking people somehow).
  • He can be amusing, but "his aesthetic ... [emphasizes] outrage over nuance, and comedy over comprehension"; "his tone [is] exquisitely balanced between humor and menace."
  • He's "tall and burly" but has "eyes the color of Windex, silver hair that he sometimes forgets is no longer blond, and jowls that he wobbles for emphasis when he wishes to express outrage."
If you don't count these backhanded compliments, Mead use only two descriptive words in the longish profile that would seem to carry positive connotations for most New Yorker readers: "urbane" and "Jewish."

2010-06-03

Jared DeMarinis has a bad idea

Jared is director of "Candidacy and Campaign Finance" for the Maryland State Board of Elections. He and Linda Lamone seem to have plans for regulating the use social networking sites by political campaigns:
A push to pass the new rules in time for the current election cycle could place Maryland among the first in the country to oversee how campaigns use social networking sites. California and Wisconsin are considering similar measures but have faced opposition from groups that fear an infringement on First Amendment rights.

The board is to vote on the rules today, but final approval from a state legislative committee will still be required. DeMarinis says he is fast-tracking the approval process in hopes of getting the rules in place for November.

Maryland does not need more limitations on political speech.

2010-06-02

Four books that aren't gloomy enough about "sustainability" to be bestsellers

John Tierney via Muck & Mystery:
Predicting that the world will not end is also pretty good insurance against a prolonged stay on the best-seller list. Have you read Julian Simon’s “The State of Humanity”? Indur Goklany’s “The Improving State of the World”? Gregg Easterbrook’s “Sonic Boom”? Good books all, and so is the newest addition to this slender canon, “The Rational Optimist,” by Matt Ridley.