Friday, December 10, 2010

investing in the future

The new Freakanomics book is a great read so far. One interesting connection made is the unintended consequence of the feminist movement on education. Once upon a time the only options for ambitious smart women were nursing and teaching. So those two professions got the cream of the crop. Now that smart ambitious women can compete in higher paying fields, teaching and nursing are left with less qualified applicants. And that has hurt our education. Matt Miller explains why the tax cuts were a terrible compromise, and how much better that money would be used if it went to increase teacher pay. Studies show that teacher quality is the single most important factor in student performance. But why would highly qualified and brilliant women or men put up with the stress of teaching for a wage which will not support a middle-class lifestyle? The average beginning teacher salary in North Carolina is 31,000$ which means that beginning teachers in many places earn less than that.  Instead of putting our resources into recruiting and paying the brightest students into the teaching profession, we are giving tax cuts to megamillionaires. No wonder our education system is becoming third-rate in the world.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's a reason for that.

 Daniel Sarewitz cites a poll done in 2009 showing that only 6% of scientists identify themselves as Republican. Daniel sees this as an imbalance to be compared to the relative lack of women, Latinos, and African-Americans in scientific fields. This is interesting because he seems to imply that Republicans are under-represented because they are discriminated against. But there is no political discrimination in science. Scientists are judged on their data, their publications, and the quality of their investigations, and none of those involve disclosing political affiliation. He mentions briefly the possibility that Republican thinking is incompatible with scientific thinking, but dismisses it without further justification. 
But really, that is the best explanation. Republicans hate science because the truth doesn't fit their paradigm. Scientists are not Republicans because science is aboutfacts, evidence,  and analytic thought. Republicans are about manipulating behavior with emotion. The corporate puppet masters have armies of advertising geniuses creating images and generating mob appeal.  No wonder scientists don't identify with Republicans, and Republicans hate science. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How does religiosity affect society?

Sam Harris in his new book The Moral Landscape makes the interesting observation that the most religious societies score worse on every measure of societal well-being (health, education, for example) than do more secular societies. Why might this be? Is it a true correlation or just a coincidence?

Could it be that societies operating on a basis of reason and rationality produce more benefits than societies that operate according to dictates of the supernatural belief?
Let's look at one example - In the late 1600's just as the modern scientific method was taking shape - Queen Anne of England had about 18 pregnancies producing many children born alive. Queen Anne was at the top of the social system with access to the best her nation could offer.  Not one of her children survived to adulthood.
 I am lower middle class. When my children were born in the latter half of the 20th century, I had life insurance salesmen trying to sell me policies on their lives.  Thanks to the advance of science, my children all survived to adulthood.
I'll take reason and rational thinking, thanks.