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.