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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Science needs saving from The New Atlantis

In the 1960s, "curiosity-driven" scientists took some soil samples from Easter Island. They ended up discovering the drug rapamycin (named after the island's name Rapa Nui), the importance of which--relevant to subjects ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's to longevity--is unfolding even now decades later. These scientists had no idea such a substance was in the Easter Island soil, and there were some twists and turns on the road to identifying and elucidating the drug. Read more here.

I bring this up in response to an essay in the conservative journal The New Atlantis "Saving Science," by Daniel Sarewitz, which argues that the "free play of free intellects" as scientific ideal is a "lie" that wastes time and resources generating esoteric and unreliable results, and that science ought to be far more oriented toward applied research. I'm all for applied research, but the attitude espoused in this essay would never have led to the discovery of rapamycin and, more broadly, would foreclose any number of avenues of research that may have practical benefits that are totally invisible at the outset.

We live in a world that does not always reveal its secrets in compliance with some bureaucratic program and timetable. Moreover, we live in a world that doesn't always comply with political ideology. One effect of the New Atlantis piece, and plausibly a motivation, is to reassure conservatives that the vast gap that has emerged between science and conservatism in recent years is nothing to worry about--indeed, reflects that science has gone wrong, not conservatism. We've had years of lowbrow right-wing attacks on science re climate, evolution and more. So a highbrow attack was in order, to bolster the confidence of conservative intellectuals that they still deserve the label.

UPDATE: The journal's editor got in touch with me, and I sent a letter discussing this in more detail (focused on the rapamycin story), to be published in due course.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Candidate Kotlikoff redux

Recommended reading: "Only 6 People Can Be Elected President in November. Guess Who They Are," by Laurence Kotlikoff, economist and presidential candidate whom I interacted with a couple of times in my previous job at Research magazine. (Actually, looking through my archive, I'm reminded I also reviewed a book of his for FrumForum.) I like and respect Larry a great deal, but I should add this isn't an endorsement. I haven't made a definite decision as to whom I'll vote for in November. The only certain thing is that it won't be Donald Trump (or Jill Stein). But the liberty to think about voting for anyone other than Hillary is afforded by New Jersey being among the safest of blue states. Even so, I don't really like the idea of leaving it to others to vote Hillary and thereby stop Trump. So I'll think about it more. But I do think Kotlikoff would be a pretty good president.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The GOP has not hit bottom yet

"Has the Right Hit Bottom Yet?" That was the debate question back on Feb. 19, 2009 at one of the Lolita Bar events organized by Todd Seavey. I argued the right's comeback was already under way; Ryan Sager thought it had further to fall. There was a guy in the audience, whom I later learned was Richard Spencer, who asked a question suggesting the Republican Party should devote itself to championing the interests of white people rather than trying to win over minorities (except Asians, whom he thought natural allies with whites). I responded with something like "If the Republican Party takes that approach, it will curl up and die." Ryan was similarly dismissive.

Now, over seven years later, I'm an ex-Republican, and Spencer (now a prominent leader of the "alt right") is in Cleveland crowing "It's amazing. We've taken over the right." And it's true enough. Spencer lives in Montana now and has argued for a whites-only "ethno-state" in the Northwest; and while that may take some time to make it into the GOP platform, the party has moved in his direction by nominating Trump, to an extent I never imagined possible back at Lolita Bar.

In that long-ago debate (which I lost by audience vote), I may have been correct that a political comeback for the right was under way (the Tea Party was just starting to brew then) but I was certainly dead wrong in thinking that the right did not have further to fall--much further--morally and intellectually.  I differ with those, including some anti-Trump friends of mine, who see something worth preserving in the GOP.  So, I stand by my "curl up and die" prediction; what's different now from 2009, though, is that I'm looking forward to seeing it happen.

UPDATE 7/24: Spencer evidently no longer advocates a whites-only homeland in the Northwest but rather the more expansive goal of expelling blacks, hispanics and Jews from the United States.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Irresponsibility party

Seems to me the Responsibility Party I recently wrote about (whether that would work as a formal name or not) took a hit in the Brexit vote (and in celebrations of that vote now playing on right-wing U.S. talk radio and cable). To recap, I wrote about a putative new American party: "Let it be the party that emphasizes personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, environmental responsibility, and a U.S. foreign policy that upholds international commitments and confidence." Those seem to be unfashionable concepts at the moment, but I think they'll win out, at least in the U.S., over time. As for how the Brexit vote made a hash of international commitments and confidence, I recommend this Dan Drezner interview: "Brexit's consequences, according to an expert: 'clusterfuck.'"

Monday, May 9, 2016

Thoughts on a new party

Having terminated my longtime membership in the Republican Party, I am interested in the possibility of a new political party taking shape. How fast that can happen remains to be seen (my guess is time is too limited for this election--but I'd be happy to be proved wrong on that point). Let me suggest as a starting point Paul David Miller's recent articles "Let's Resurrect the Federalist Party" and "What the Federalist Party Platform Would Look Like." Broadly speaking, I am sympathetic to his arguments, and here below will make some points of my own about the purposes and priorities of a new party:

1. The new party should be "republican" in a small-r sense. A concise definition of what "republican" has meant through the ages comes from this book The End of Kings, that "no man shall rule alone." 


An irony of Donald Trump's recent statement “don’t forget, this is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party” is that he has violated not only conservative principles but republican ones. He epitomizes the idea of one-person rule, with the leader receiving deference and adulation while operating by whim and intimidation. Having formed in opposition to Trump, a new party should have in its DNA a deep resistance to any form of authoritarianism or cult of personality.

2. The new party should have some reasonable amenability to ideological diversity. A brilliant aspect of federalism is that it allows people of divergent views on various issues to live together in one nation with reduced tensions. Why should my home state of New Jersey have the same social and economic policies as, say, North Carolina or Wyoming, places that are very different culturally and demographically? Striking a dynamic balance between state and federal authority offers some flexibility for experimentation, and a party that favors such an approach would more or less by definition include people of diverse views. On a related point, there are many good reasons to be opposed to Trump, and his deviations from conservative ideology are not the only such reasons.

3. The new party should offer creative policy solutions that neither Democrats nor Republicans have rallied around. On an issue of climate policy, for instance, I'd hope the new party would be willing to consider carbon fee and dividend, a framework that holds the prospect of actually making a difference on climate change and avoiding the economic harms of the regulatory-heavy methods propounded by the Democrats. It may be that many #NeverTrump ex- or soon-to-be-ex-Republicans are also skeptics of the need for action on climate change, but at the very least such an issue needs to be openly debated in the new party and not treated as dogma.

4. What to call the new party? I am wary of going with the "Federalist Party" as it evokes an organization that flourished over two centuries ago, even it is less musty than "Whigs." To indicate a forward-looking quality, I would prefer the "New Federalist Party" and am wondering whether there is a better name out there that strikes a good balance between enduring principles and fresh thinking.

5. Perhaps it could be called the "Responsibility Party" or just "Responsibility" for short. Let it be the party that emphasizes personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, environmental responsibility, and a U.S. foreign policy that upholds international commitments and confidence. (I presented related ideas, in proto form, in a brief FrumForum post years ago.) Let the Responsibility Party be the party you can trust, while other parties go YOLO and roll the dice with our children's future.

6. Anyone interested?

UPDATE 5/17: The Renegade Party forms.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Not a RINO anymore

Ending a relationship of 32+ years, I mailed this today. (Click to enlarge.)


As I noted on Twitter, it's too bad there's no Federalist Party on this thing. But given the available choices, I'm with her.

P.S., no Trump running mate selection would change my mind, except to lower my opinion of the person who accepts.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Elusive wildlife in Nepal

I've been busy and traveling. Can you spot the rhino in the picture below?



That was taken at Bardia National Park in Nepal a few weeks ago. So was the pic below--where's the tiger?


It's in the water, a white dot just right of upward stem in foreground. It's not easy to get to see a tiger in the wild, so we were grateful for this sighting, even if it wasn't on par with our experience in 2009.

For some interesting recent material on eco-tourism in Nepal, start here.  Count me as on the pro-ecotourism side.

Anyway, one merit of being that far away was a sense of liberation from news about Donald Trump. Sadly, though, it looks like future posts will have to return to that deplorable subject.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Federalist comeback

This blog will be on hiatus for some time; but for those following the political situation, I recommend this article by Paul David Miller: "Let's Resurrect The Federalist Party." Excerpt:
Finally, the party simply got it wrong on some policy issues. I voted for Republicans because I cannot in good conscience support the progressive worldview embodied by the Democratic Party—but I always had to live with the discomfort of knowing that Democrats did a much better job emphasizing the importance of environmental conservation and alleviating poverty. They never had good ideas about how to protect the environment or solve poverty because Democrats have a blind faith in the power of bureaucracy, but at least they gave the issues the attention they deserved. 
Critics are fond of accusing wonks like me of being RINOs for saying such things. Turns out they were right. The Republican Party has settled its mind on these issues, and it is wrong—just one more nail in its coffin.
Me: Having recently seen the fantastic musical "Hamilton," as well as watched the disintegration of my longtime if uncomfortable political home, count me in for a new Federalist Party.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Trump moment (updated)

I find the Trump developments rather grotesque and horrible, and this feeling is not alleviated by my having argued last August that his winning the nomination, and for that matter the presidency, was not all that implausible:
Do I think Trump has any chance of winning the GOP nomination? Yes, though I would certainly bet against it. Do I think he has any chance of winning the presidency? A slim one, but not negligible. If he won the nomination, his credibility by that point would be considerable; and it's not as if the Democrats have a frontrunner currently whose viability looks to be assured going forward. But the likelihood that Trump would lose in a general election has sparked some genuine agonizing on the right, and it's kind of funny to watch conservative pundits suddenly embrace the pragmatic electability criteria they spent the past couple of cycles disparaging.
Going forward: mark me down with Ezra Klein in regarding Trump as a genuine threat to American democracy

Mark me down also as disagreeing strenuously with those (including some I respect highly such as Virginia Postrel) who argue that John Kasich should drop out of the race on the putative grounds that this would make a Trump victory less likely. The way to stop Trump is not by rallying behind someone else who offers a diluted version of his terrible attributes, as Rubio does in his ideological shape-shifting and implicit promise to torture terrorism suspects to "find out everything they know."

Moreover, my concern about Trump is not that he'll go on to be the losing nominee but that, if he is the nominee, there is a chance that he might win the presidency. I would prefer a Kasich presidency over a Clinton presidency, but anybody now running --including Sanders and Cruz -- is manifestly preferable to the authoritarian potential of a Trump presidency.

Finally, I should add that I do share one thing with Trump and his supporters, which is that I now care little about the future of the Republican Party (of which I've been a member since 1983). A party that could get itself into this predicament is far from an indispensable bastion of anything worth preserving. The country does need alternatives to the Democrats, but right now the GOP mainly serves the purpose of making the Democrats look more attractive than they deserve.

UPDATED 2/26: I still would like Kasich to be the nominee, but I have to admit my opinion of Rubio has gone way up in the past 24 hours.

UPDATE: But not as much as my estimation of Chris Christie has gone down.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who wrecked the GOP?

For the record, I agree with this post by Kevin Drum.

UPDATE: Also, I see a glimmer of hope, but it's narrow at the moment.

UPDATE 2: The glimmer of hope gets slightly brighter. Would Vox and the Daily Beast be going after a candidate over nothing if they didn't think he had some chance to win?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Shultz, climate and why Breitbart.com can't handle the truth

George Shultz has been a voice of reason within the Republican Party on climate policy. The following two paragraphs, from a Washington Post op-ed of his last year, "A Reagan Approach to Climate Change," sum up his approach (click to enlarge):


This is just one of many places in which Shultz advocated a carbon tax, with the caveat that the money should be returned to taxpayers. Now, one reaction on the right to this kind of thinking has been the "everyone makes a mistake once in a while, even George Shultz"-type dismissal given by (now thankfully former) presidential candidate Chris Christie a few months ago. Another reaction is to simply deny that Shultz has said what he's said. That's the tack taken at Breitbart.com today, in a piece by Chriss W. Street titled "Jerry Brown Tries to Flog a New Carbon Tax." Excerpt:

Notice that there's a link to something or another Laffer said, but nothing substantiating the statement that Shultz has "never backed a new carbon tax." That's because it's demonstrably false.

There's a lot wrong on the right these days, and I would put climate science denialism high on that list. But an unwillingness even to face readily evident facts about who disagrees with you is a sure sign your position is in serious intellectual trouble.

UPDATE: Aaron Huertas points out that Breitbart.com's Laffer link leads to something not by Laffer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Clinton mention

Hillary Clinton, campaigning in Iowa, took note of DeWitt Clinton (not a relation of hers):
“I did a little research,” Mrs. Clinton said at a town-hall-style event at Eagle Heights Elementary School in Clinton on Saturday. “Clinton County is named for DeWitt Clinton, the sixth governor of New York,” Mrs. Clinton continued. “He was the person who said, ‘We’re going to build a canal from the Hudson River down to Lake Erie all the way across New York.’ ”
Me: It was odd to see the subject of my in-progress book show up on the campaign trail. This political season has been a rather engrossing distraction. One thing I admire greatly about DeWitt Clinton is that, even though he was a professional politician, his interests outside politics were many, deep and varied.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A benefit of fighting climate change

There's an interesting piece at Bloomberg Gadfly "Oil's Sum of All Fears" (found via David Frum) discussing that oil prices have departed from their historical tendency to spike when there is geopolitical tension (especially in the Mideast). This passage suggested some factors helping explain what's changed:
In October, BP's chief economist gave a speech on the "New Economics of Oil". In this brave new world, shale resources' vast reserves, short lead times and low upfront investment upend the notion that OPEC's own underground riches are bound to rise in value over time as everyone else's wells run dry. Adding to this is pressure on the demand side in the form of political and technological momentum to limit the burning of fossil fuels.
That last line points to one of the great under-appreciated but obvious facts of our time: trying to limit climate change is not a distraction from our geopolitical problems (as it's often presented as being on the right) but rather an integral part of dealing with those problems. Less dependence on fossil fuels brings a raft of economic and national security benefits, as well as environmental ones: less vulnerability to oil price spikes; and less revenue for terror groups and hostile states. And that's even without assuming any success in fighting climate change; any benefits on that score also have geopolitical benefits, such as less likelihood of droughts such as can exacerbate refugee crises.

If you want better national security, avoid at all costs candidates who say things like this, and ones who don't even understand their own obscurantist arguments about a global warming "pause."

Monday, January 4, 2016

Rethinking the 6% scientists are Republicans meme

I used to be more impressed by these figures, which were cited today by Paul Krugman.


I cited the "6% of scientists are Republicans" figure in various discussions and articles a few years ago. At the time, I also noted that there was some uncertainty as to how accurate the figure was, given that it was based on a sampling of AAAS members. That concern has grown in recent months, precisely because I lately have become an AAAS member in order to subscribe to the journal Science. I already knew that becoming a member does not require being a scientist (I am a part-time science journalist) but the distinction between "AAAS member" and "scientist" has been underscored for me by (a) actually attaining membership for the price of a magazine subscription and (b) receiving subsequent mailings inviting me to further professional memberships, such as in a chemical society, and even being told I was "specially selected" as an AAAS member or some such.

Lest I be misunderstood, I continue to believe that the 6% figure, though clearly not a precise measurement, points to a real problem of heightened alienation between scientists and Republicans. But seeing it repeated now, years later, with no qualifications, does not much incline me toward Krugman's argument, to wit that there's no sign of academia moving left, it's just that crazy Republicans moved right. The current GOP overall is indeed too right-wing for me, as I've made clear, but craziness at one end of the political spectrum often begets and is abetted by craziness at the opposite terminus, and pretending that's not so is a sign you may be succumbing to it yourself.

BTW I came across Krugman's piece via this tweet, with which I sympathize greatly,  by Jonathan Haidt:


Friday, January 1, 2016

Some mostly math-related books

I've just made a few purchases of math-related books:


Edward Frenkel's phenomenally good book Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality is out in paperback, and I wanted to have it on hand. I interviewed Frenkel about a year ago, after reading a library copy of the hardcover. I'd certainly add this if I were doing a new version of my 10+ most influential books, as it got me into learning and writing about math on an ongoing basis.

One of the first things I did in that direction, after reading Frenkel's book, was take Jo Boaler's class How to Learn Math: for Students, which was valuable for thinking about math education (the course had only a limited sampling of math), which I'm interested in as a personal and political matter. I've now ordered her book Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, and may review it at some point here.


Also ordered: Patterns of the Universe: A Coloring Adventure in Math and Beauty, which certainly looks interesting.

Recently finished reading: Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers, by Amir Aczel, which is a nice blend of math, history and travelogue, and involves searching for the first zero through South and Southeast Asia.

Current non-math reading: Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, by Jon Meacham. Quite interesting thus far (I'm up to around 1960) and elegaic, with much of the world described seeming not quite as distant as the ancient civilizations described in the zero book above, but pretty distant nonetheless.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The terrible reality of the GOP race

I haven't had much time to blog lately, but the Republican presidential race is going in too much a worst-case-scenario-ish direction to be ignored. Those of us who tried pushing the Republican Party onto a reformist and moderate track have to acknowledge that the effort has been manifestly unsuccessful. Those who took the view that a harder-line or more forceful conservatism (or just "say it louder") is the right direction will now have to face the grim reality of their wish coming true.

I agree with this headline and the gist of the article: "Win or Lose, Trump Has Already Left His Mark on Republican Primary." Excerpt (click to enlarge):




Me: Jonathan Chait's piece "How Donald Trump Opened the Door for Ted Cruz to Win," also aptly summarizes the state of the party, even if I don't feel quite as confident that Cruz will come out on top (though he may well). The thing we can be most sure of is that what once would have been considered a hard right candidate is likely to emerge, and any semblance of moderation will only be an illusion created by the alternatives along some dimension of policy or affect. Excerpt from Chait (click to enlarge):



Me: To describe all the above as anything short of a disaster would, it seems to me, require some shielding from reality. It's a disaster for the GOP and ultimately for the United States, which needs but does not have a rational and lucid alternative to the Democrats. I have voted Republican in every presidential election since my first (1984) with one exception (1992) when I voted Libertarian. But even with a flawed prospective candidate, the Democrats can expect -- and by current trends, will deserve -- a landslide in 2016, and my vote with it.

UPDATE 12/11: I am in strong agreement with this passage from Jennifer Rubin (click to enlarge):

















UPDATE 2/16: The race of course has gotten even worse, but there are moments when Marco Rubio makes me rethink the negative assessment above.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Antiscience identity politics

There was a time, aka the 1990s, when the postmodern left and science were notably at odds. I've long cherished this anecdote:
When social psychologist Phoebe Ellsworth took the podium at a recent interdisciplinary seminar on emotions, she was already feeling rattled. Colleagues who'd presented earlier had warned her that the crowd was tough and had little patience for the reduction of human experience to numbers or bold generalizations about emotions across cultures. Ellsworth had a plan: She would pre-empt criticism by playing the critic, offering a social history of psychological approaches to the topic. But no sooner had the word "experiment" passed her lips than the hands shot up. Audience members pointed out that the experimental method is the brainchild of white Victorian males. Ellsworth agreed that white Victorian males had done their share of damage in the world but noted that, nonetheless, their efforts had led to the discovery of DNA. This short-lived dialogue between paradigms ground to a halt with the retort: "You believe in DNA?"
Then a lot happened. Postmodernism faded as an academic force. Tensions between conservatives and scientists increased, most saliently on climate and evolution. Left-wing antiscience turned into a relatively obscure issue, albeit one that this blog, with its affinity for obscurity, occasionally visited.

However, if anyone thinks that science is going to be untouched by the current inflammation of PC leftism on campuses and beyond, let's just say "You believe in DNA?" has spawned more questions in febrile young minds:

I've written in the past about a possible switcheroo of pro- and anti-science positions in the political spectrum. I was thinking of a decades-long timeframe, but it may not be such a long wait.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Some people can still change their mind

Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine takes a look at the decline of swing voting as the parties have become polarized: "Politics in a Country Where Nobody Changes Their Mind." Excerpt:
The sorting of American politics into semipermanent, warring camps unfolded over decades. But the red-blue map that first came into public consciousness during the 2000 election created a searing impression of a cultural divide between a Democratic Party rooted in the coasts and upper Midwest and a Republican Party dominating the old Confederacy, Appalachia, and the Mountain West. Smidt points out that the jarring events of George W. Bush’s first term — a recession, a terrorist attack, a war in Iraq — failed to dislodge the hardening partisan loyalties. “After having gone through a recession and a war,” he writes, “pure independents were more stable in their party support across 2000–04 than strong partisans were across 1972–76 and about as stable as strong partisans across 1956–60.” The partisan voter of a generation ago switched parties more frequently than today’s independent voter.
He closes with:
Eventually something will happen to break up the current arrangement. Maybe Republicans will one day move to the center, or left-wing activists will push Democrats out of it. (Right now the latter seems more likely than the former.) For the time being, the dominant fact of American politics is that nobody is changing their mind about anything.
Me: I think the situation is less stable than all that. Consider the polling results reported here:

"Many Conservative Republicans Believe Climate Change Is a Real Threat." Excerpts:
A majority of Republicans — including 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans — believe the world’s climate is changing and that mankind plays some role in the change, according to a new survey conducted by three prominent Republican pollsters.
...
On the campaign trail, the leading Republican presidential contenders question or deny human-caused climate change. In an interview on CNN last week, Donald J. Trump said, “I don’t believe in climate change.” In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle this month, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who, along with Mr. Trump, is at the top of many recent polls said, “There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused.” 
While such statements sit well with many conservative activists, the new survey found that 73 percent of all voters and 56 percent of Republicans do believe the climate is changing. Fewer than a third of Republicans think the climate is changing because of purely natural cycles, and only 9 percent think the climate is not changing at all, the survey found. It also found that 72 percent of Republicans support accelerating the development of renewable energy sources.
Me: Climate is an issue where I am particularly at odds with most of the politicians and pundits of what has been my party. Like George Shultz, I favor a carbon fee and dividend system such as proposed by the Citizens Climate Lobby (and I watched Shultz being dismissed, ludicrously, for left-wing thinking by Rubio and Christie at a recent debate). But that's the not the only issue where I've veered -- or in some cases stayed more or less where I was and watched the GOP veer away from me. In either case, somebody has changed their mind, and maybe that can happen again.

I suspect Mitt Romney lost partly because Hurricane Sandy provided such a vivid reminder shortly before the election of what will become increasingly likely as climate is disrupted. Reality has a way of intruding on people who have walled themselves off from it, and some of those people might become swing voters, since neither party is immune to insularity's temptation 100% of the time.

UPDATE: Marco Rubio apparently bases his opposition to carbon taxes on an assumption of U.S. weakness.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What weather satellites?

John Kasich wants to eliminate the Commerce Department, a position that has some merit provided you know what it does and what functions need to be transferred elsewhere -- and, I'm pleased to report, Kasich's proposal does include such details.

From Bloomberg Politics:
Republican John Kasich would eliminate the U.S. Commerce Department and its White House cabinet post if he were elected president, calling the agency a “cluttered attic.”
Kasich would transfer many of the department’s duties to other agencies, according to a proposal released by his campaign. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which accounts for about half the department’s budget and includes the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, would move to the Department of Interior.
Compare and contrast with "Ron Paul's Spaced Out Plan" as I called it last time around, and Rand Paul's similar cluelessness. If either Paul knows that department runs weather satellites, they've kept it close to the vest.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Space retirement

My latest at Research magazine: "Space Travel, Robots and Your Clients’ Retirement." Excerpt:
Consider the scenario below. Though it reads like science fiction, it is from a serious-minded report, with the sober title “Commercial Space Transportation Study,” that was presented to NASA by a consortium of aerospace companies in 1994 to assess various potential uses of space. One possibility raised was retirement in orbit: 
“For long-term residences in space, the elderly may be some of the people who could benefit from living in reduced gravity conditions … Without the heavy weight of gravity pulling down on them, elderly people may find themselves far more self-sufficient than they were on Earth. If they were only able to get around a little in their room and dress themselves while on the ground, they may find that they are able to get around enough to completely take care of cleaning, cooking, or other chores. In some cases, they may want to perform some type of job. It is possible that very little staff would be required to maintain a retirement center in space because the tenants could care for themselves.”
Hasn't worked out that way. Whole thing here.