How George W. Bush is changing my life for the better

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not from the rebate checks.

Let me put it this way: from now on, I am going to exercise at least twice a week. I’m going to post the remaining Quantum Computing Since Democritus lectures. I’m going to finish writing up several papers that I’ve been procrastinating on for years. I’m going to get involved in more non-work-or-blog-related social activities. And I’m going to do all of these things (and have friends and family members vouch for it) because if I don’t, then money I’ve already placed in escrow will be donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, as well as to the National Rifle Association.

Yeah, I signed up for the “commitment contract” service stickK.com, which was started in January by Yale economics professors Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres and student Jordan Goldberg. You get to choose the “anti-charities” to which your money gets donated if you don’t achieve your stated goals; surprisingly, stickK itself doesn’t take a cut (it seems to get all its money from ad revenue). The idea is obvious in retrospect; what’s amazing is that it took this long for anyone to build a company around it. So far it seems to be working. For example, I jogged on Tuesday and went swimming this morning, despite not having exercised for the previous six months. What remains to be seen is whether W. can inspire me to new heights of research productivity.

An enormous hat tip to Michael Nielsen.

61 Responses to “How George W. Bush is changing my life for the better”

  1. aravind Says:

    thanks scott! i had read about stickk some months ago, but it takes someone of your charisma to give me a kick in the appropriate place and get me moving .. my enormous hat tip to you.

  2. Koray Says:

    Friends and family members may not make the best referees. I personally would let you off the hook instead of letting money go to the anti-charities.

  3. Jack in Danville Says:

    Speaking only for one person with very little understanding and lots of poorly formed questions, a publishing surge by you will be a great benefit for civilization.

  4. Michael Nielsen Says:

    Scott – Try putting a lovely photo like this (SFW) up on your wall may help.

  5. Scott Says:

    Michael: Thanks for the suggestion! The two drawbacks I can foresee are
    (1) the extreme anger I’d feel from looking at the photo possibly decreasing productivity even more than thoughts of paying him would increase it,
    (2) having to explain the photo, at length, to every single person who entered my office (and who doesn’t read my blog).

  6. Michael Nielsen Says:

    Scott – point (2) can be an advantage. Quite aside from the humorous effect, some of those people will start pushing you to achieve all your goals.

  7. rrtucci Says:

    how about learning to sail on the Charles River

  8. Jeremy Barbay Says:

    Scott, you made my day with that post ;)

    Maybe paying in advance for a serie of posters (of Bush or else), but receiving one of them each time you fail one of your commitment, would form an incentive even stronger (and a sequence of warnings)?

  9. Chris Drost Says:

    I’m going to post the remaining Quantum Computing Since Democritus lectures.

    Damn straight you are. :-P

    To be more serious, I’ve wanted to see your take on “Free Will” for a while now. I used to think that quantum effects just had nothing to do with free will, because free will isn’t random and the collapse of the wavefunction, as far as I was taught, is random. Searle, as always, did a public lecture that challenged that preconception of mine; but Nima Arkani-Hamed lectured on how most of what passes for indeterminism in QM isn’t indeterministic. (It’s in the middle of that lecture.)

    (I feel obligated to point out that Arkani-Hamed isn’t quite on this point. If you go back to Feynman’s lecture-example of the double-slit experiment with electrons: you shoot electrons at the two adjacent slits in the dark, so that there’s no way even in principle to tell which slit an electron goes through, and you see an interference pattern; but if you turn on a bright light to figure out which slit an electron comes through, you interrupt the interference pattern and get a sum of two bell-shaped curves instead. What Arkani-Hamed describes is a good explanation for why the interference pattern disappears into a sum of two bell curves. But it is not a good explanation for why, if we set up two detectors equidistant from the slits, only one of them goes off at any given time: the wavefunction still has to *collapse*, and he hasn’t given a non-random explanation for that collapse. In terms of Arkani-Hamed’s analogy, he still hasn’t described why we don’t see TVs as “half over here, half over there,” he has only explained why quantum mechanics reduces to classical probabilities without interference, in the limit of many degrees of freedom.)

  10. Ian Durham Says:

    I’m a cranky New Englander and thus inherently cynical (and cheap). I think I’ll just hang on to what little money W, Congress, and the oil barrons graciously allow me to have…

  11. A.C. Says:

    Thanks for brightening up my morning with your post! But a question comes to my mind (which can certainly be ignored if people are going to get upset) – why does there seem to be a strong predisposition among mathematicians/computer scientists to lean to the left with their politics?

  12. A.C. Says:

    Sorry, to clarify, I find as much fault with the Bush administration as a Harvard social science professor, and I’m a non-religious or agnostic (whatever you’d like to call it). This question is purely out of curiosity, not to make a point. I’m also not asking why people in this community tend to support Democrats over Republicans (most of which seem to no longer embody conservatism in my opinion).

  13. Scott Says:

    how about learning to sail on the Charles River

    That’s about #1070 on my to-do list.

  14. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    Is a predisposition for people who teach mathematics to lean left characteristic of mathematicians or is it characteristic of teachers?

    BTW, wouldn’t it make at least as much sense to order a D-Wave computer if you don’t exercise?

  15. John Sidles Says:

    A.C. says: Why does there seem to be a strong predisposition among mathematicians/computer scientists to lean to the left with their politics?

    In part, this is a historical anomaly … prominent scientist/mathematicians like John von Neumann and Theodore von Karman were deeply conservative.

    For a truly encyclopedic review of the intersection of politics and science, reaching back to the middle 1600s, I commend the works of IAS professor Jonathan Israel, specifically Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, and also the continuig volume Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752

    IMHO, it’s pretty much impossible to discuss science and politics intelligently, without some knowledge of this wonderfully interesting period of history. That is why both of Israel’s volumes have an honored place in our UW QSE Group’s Library of Transgressive Literature … and a third volume is reported to be in the works, oh boy!

    The bottom line: as soon as the Republican Party returns to its historical embrace of free-thinking deist/spinozist leaders like Abraham Lincoln, then scientists, mathematicians, and engineers will return to voting Republican! :)

  16. Scott Says:

    why does there seem to be a strong predisposition among mathematicians/computer scientists to lean to the left with their politics?

    Is it any stronger than the predisposition of physicists, biologists, etc? (I’ll ignore the social sciences, since they make the hard sciences look like the John Birch Society by comparison, with the sole exception of economics.)

    If not, then there’s always the explanation proposed by S. Colbert: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

  17. Scott Says:

    wouldn’t it make at least as much sense to order a D-Wave computer if you don’t exercise?

    I already offered Geordie $10 for one, after he said that various crucial details were trade secrets available only to prospective customers. Sadly, the deal never went further.

  18. A.C. Says:

    John (also Scott… I guess :-) ), thank you for your thoughtful reply! I’m familier with Jonathan Israel, but I haven’t yet read ‘Radical Enlightenment’ – will get around to it eventually.

    “The bottom line: as soon as the Republican Party returns to its historical embrace of free-thinking deist/spinozist leaders like Abraham Lincoln, then scientists, mathematicians, and engineers will return to voting Republican!”

    Couldn’t agree more!

  19. Hillary Moonst Says:

    Actually, this concept was created as an April Fools product by a company called ThinkGreek like a year or more ago. Great somebody made it real though!

    http://www.thinkgeek.com/stuff/41/snuznluz.shtml

  20. Scott Says:

    Hillary: Yeah, I’m sure I’ve made similar jokes also, and have even tried (ineffectually) to put various kinds of commitment contracts on myself. I guess the key contribution of Ayres et al. was to set up a website that really, actually makes it easy to commit and hard to back out.

  21. Raoul Ohio Says:

    Following up on A.C.’s remark about math/CS people tending to be at the “way left” end of the “hard sciences” population, perhaps in the middle of the “social sciences” population.

    Disclaimer: I suppose I am a right wing Democrat, because I know equal numbers of left wing nuts and right wing nuts. I think I have figured out American politics: Democrats are dingbats, Republicans are a**holes. Science-wise, I try to hang in there with Math, CS, Physics, and Astronomy. I might be able to pull this off if I didn’t waste so much time hanging out at gyms and blues/soul/jazz/bluegrass clubs.

    Anyway, recall the Reagan era “Star Wars” initiative, largely dreamed up by Edwin Teller. It was immediately obvious to everyone that it was ludicrous. So how did the different branches of science respond?

    Although any physicist will tell you how much he hates Teller, many submitted proposals to work on super lasers, smart flying rocks, whatever; and got a ton of money to try them out. In contrast, mathematicians passed resolutions that they would never take a penny for such evil things, and went back to dreaming up ever more subtle separation conditions for topological spaces. I didn’t belong to any CS organizations, so I don’t know what they did, but I would guess they acted like mathematicians.

    So how did this all turn out? Surprisingly well, actually. None of the technologies worked of course, although a few might be getting close by now. The big picture is that the Russians thought some might work, realized they were out of their league technologically, and quit bluffing. That has made the world a better place.

    A related note: everyone should subscribe to Bruce Schneier’s newsletter on security and cryptography. It’s great. Many government officials and policies dealing with security are way lame, and Bruce gives them the ridicule they deserve. But on the other hand, you gotta do something, and it would be great if Bruce occasionally steped down from the left-libertarian soapbox to suggest how to do these things better.

  22. Hypercohomolgy Says:

    Strange how American Jews never criticize holocaust fans like Nasralah or Ahmadinejad
    but save their hatred
    for Bush, who got a bitter foe of Israel hanged.
    I don’t think any shtetel would have been particularly proud of your banal smugness.

  23. KaoriBlue Says:

    Hypercohomology,

    As an American Jew (and, more recently, an “Anonymous Conservative” or “Anonymous Coward” ^___^) I couldn’t agree with you more that I’m saving my criticism for Bush. My feelings about the Ahmadinejads of the world simply go without saying – they do not deserve criticism, they deserve only mockery and our disgust. I’ll save that criticism and anger for those who fail to live up to the standards and expectations of their positions in the United States government, positions that I have tremendous respect for.

    As for your comment about Bush getting Saddam Hussein hung, I don’t see the world today as a safer place for Jews. I do see an increasingly belligerent Iranian government taking advantage of a enormous power vacuum, a resurgent Hezbollah gaining increasing political clout in Lebanon, (the list goes on), and an increasingly isolationist and populist American public seemingly unwilling or too exhausted to do anything about it.

  24. Greg Egan Says:

    Hypercohomolgy (sic) wrote:

    Strange how American Jews never criticize holocaust fans like Nasralah or Ahmadinejad

    Nice to see how carefully you’ve researched this subject.

  25. Anonymous RWA Says:

    Scott Says:

    Comment #16 May 30th, 2008 at 1:19 pm
    why does there seem to be a strong predisposition among mathematicians/computer scientists to lean to the left with their politics?

    Is it any stronger than the predisposition of physicists, biologists, etc? (I’ll ignore the social sciences, since they make the hard sciences look like the John Birch Society by comparison, with the sole exception of economics.)

    If not, then there’s always the explanation proposed by S. Colbert: “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

    I’ve always considered reality to have a strong right wing bias, particularly with regard to economics. I consider capitalism-deniers to be way up there with relativity-deniers and holocaust-deniers on the non-reality-based scale. In my book, even the Republicans have moved too far toward tax-based socialism, and the Democrats are far worse.

    Hence I have long worried how so many smart people end up so ridiculously far to the left. The kindest explanation I can find is to regard it as childish, e.g. the old adage, “If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you don’t have a heart. If you are a socialist at forty, you don’t have a brain.” It is said that good researchers need to retain a childish curiosity. They also seem to retain a childish politics.
    Teachers in general are youth oriented. In current US statistics, women are more left wing than men. Parenthood and marriage tend to be associated with the right. There is some evidence in favor of my interpretation of the left wing as the childish wing and the right wing as the adultish or parentish wing. Still I must ask, Is socialism right, or are the academics wrong?

  26. rrtucci Says:

    Okay, how about learning to smoke tobacco on the Charles River

  27. Scott Says:

    Hypercohomolgy [sic]: That’s the thing. Bush can take it as a compliment that I’m even willing to contemplate the possibility of giving him money, as an inducement to write papers and exercise more. For Mahmoud, the same is not the case.

  28. John Sidles Says:

    Anonymous RWA: I consider capitalism-deniers to be way up there with relativity-deniers and holocaust-deniers on the non-reality-based scale. In my book, even the Republicans have moved too far toward tax-based socialism … Hence I have long worried how so many smart people end up so ridiculously far to the left.

    Hey, RWA, it’s not just the smart people who lean left.

    Many of us less-smart heuristic-using folks are mighty impressed by the performance of health-care systems & overall well-being of children in countries like Denmark and Norway … and we are mighty unimpressed by the America’s train-wreck of a health-care system, and the declining well-being of America’s children.

    My wife and I are foster-care providers, and I am myself a professor of medicine, and so I speak both from hard data and direct personal experience.

    Most folks are perfectly willing to stipulate that in principle, all of the following social systems are 100% perfect: ideal capitalism, ideal communism, ideal libertarianism, ideal Christianity & Buddhism & Judism & Islam & <choose your favorite religion>.

    It is a plain-and-simple fact, however, that chimpanzees are wholly unable to implement any of the above social systems … and so are human beings.

    Now, if someone were to propose a social system that was based wholly on Opera Buffa, P. G. Wodehouse novels, Animal Planet reruns, and blogging … hey, it could work! :)

  29. Radford Neal Says:

    Your choice of anti-charities is revealing. More so that I think you realize.

    The George W. Bush Presidential Library makes good sense. Much as you may think Bush is incompetent and/or evil, contributing to his library isn’t really going to make anything worse. It will just annoy you.

    But the National Rifle Association? What can you be thinking? I see two possibilities…

    One is that you don’t like the NRA because of its opposition to gun control (by far its most prominant activity, at least from the point of view of non-members), and you think that gun control saves lives. You also think that helping out with your personal exercise program is worth taking the risk that you’ll end up contributing to an organization whose activities will (you believe) result in the deaths of innocent people.

    The other possibility is that you realize (consciously or sub-conciously) that the whole “gun control saves lives” idea is total BS, and that your real reason for not liking the NRA (and liking gun control) is that it’s an easy way of expressing your contempt for redneck culture, and feeling superior about yourself. The fact that this involves violating other people’s civil rights (as gun control surely does, if it doesn’t actually save lives) is of not much interest to you.

    The second possibility is marginally less morally objectionable, so I hope that’s the explanation. But neither is something I’d want to make public on a blog. Or could this be a subtle way for your sub-conscious to force you into rethinking your attitudes…?

  30. John Sidles Says:

    Gosh Radford, my own redneck credentials are impeccable, and I happen to think Scott’s actions are pretty reasonable.

    On a related note—and IMHO a more serious one—what do STOC-type game theory folks think about the McCain campaign’s embrace of market principles via the “patronage points” that the McCain Online Action Center has now started to award for pro-Republican blog posts?

    There’s no doubt that the RNC has implemented a reward system that is market-driven and rational. But gosh, won’t it incent a huge increase in spamming? Thus polluting the polity, and amplifying the “power of faction” that the Founding Fathers took such great lengths to forestall, via their system of checks and balances?

    My own opinion (for what it’s worth) is the the Tragedy of the Commons occurs as surely in the political sphere as it does in the economic sphere.

    On the other hand, as Mark Twain said, “It is differences of opinions that make horse races.” :)

  31. Job Says:

    Radford, in your second possibility, you’re using empathy to get at Scott’s reasons.

  32. Scott Says:

    Radford, taken to its logical conclusion, your argument would suggest that, unless I donate everything I own to anti-NRA groups, I must be either callously indifferent to the lives I could save by so doing, or else insincere in my view that permissive gun laws lead to thousands of needless deaths. Likewise, those who say Obama would “sell out to the terrorists,” but don’t devote their lives to defeating him (or even plotting to assassinate him), must be either insincere in their belief or else callously indifferent to the future victims of terrorism, etc. Were this sort of argument widely accepted, wouldn’t civil discourse about life-or-death issues become impossible?

    My own solution is twofold:

    (1) Reject the strict consequentialism implicit in your argument, for reasons of computational intractability.

    (2) Carefully distinguish shades of moral badness. For example, the NRA doesn’t actively pursue the deaths of innocent people, as (for example) Hamas does. It merely advocates policies that seem likely to increase such deaths, with what seems to me like reckless disregard of the available evidence. But that’s something we’re all guilty of from time to time (just maybe not with the NRA’s consistency).

  33. Radford Neal Says:

    I don’t actually advocate consequentialism in general. However, I claim that if there’s any morally permissible argument for gun control, it must be based on good consequences. (Maybe even good consequences wouldn’t be enough, but I don’t think we have to get into that.) If you don’t believe that there are good consequences, then your advocacy of gun control is just prejudice and an illegitimate desire to tell other people what they can and can’t do.

    Actually, you do seem to believe that there are good consequences to gun control, and that that’s sufficient to justify it. You might want to examine whether you or the NRA “recklessly disregard the evidence”, but let’s not get into that. You claim to be pretty sure that the more successful the NRA is, the more people will die, without any other compensating benefit that justifies this cost in your mind. Yet you’ve arranged to help the NRA, with a reasonably large probability.

    I think most people distinguish between actively promoting something bad, and just not trying very hard to stop it. The latter is indeed something that everyone does to at least some extent, for very good reasons.

    I wonder what other anti-charities you’d be willing to donate to? How about a group that promotes the idea that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and that anti-HIV drugs are poisons that people with AIDS should on no account take? They’re mistaken, of course, but no doubt well meaning. Or how about the anti-vaccination movement? Maybe not…?

    So I continue to suspect that your willingness to donate to the NRA does indeed reflect a subconscious recognition that your opposition to it isn’t really based on a rational assessment of the effects of gun control.

  34. Scott Says:

    I wonder what other anti-charities you’d be willing to donate to? How about a group that promotes the idea that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, and that anti-HIV drugs are poisons that people with AIDS should on no account take? They’re mistaken, of course, but no doubt well meaning. Or how about the anti-vaccination movement? Maybe not…?

    Please keep in mind that I’ve only just started to experiment with motivating myself this way. If I found that (1) the probability of motivating myself to achieve a goal really does increase with the odiousness of the anti-charity in question, and (2) the probability becomes close to unity for anti-charities of the odiousness above, then yes, I’d consider it.

  35. anonymous Says:

    A presidential library is basically just a combination history museum and document archive; hardly seems like much of an anti-charity to me. (Do you really wish for the George W. Bush Presidential Library — as opposed to the George W. Bush presidency — not to exist?)

    With regard to the question of left-leaning bias among scientists (and academics generally), my own theory is as follows: Academics are generally secular, and are consequently unable to benefit from the warm moral glow of smug self-satisfaction that religion provides for its adherents. Hence, vocal leftism is a way for these academics to feel like they’re “good people” and proclaim this to the world; putting peace slogans etc. on one’s website or car bumper serves as the equivalent of walking around wearing a cross or a yarmulke.

  36. KaoriBlue Says:

    Anonymous,

    Being politically left- or right-leaning seems, to me at least, unfairly confounded with one’s religious views. I honestly believe that it has quite a bit more to do with one’s ‘faith’ in the ability of their neighbors and fellow citizens to make reasonable and responsible choices, to take care of themselves without excessive government intervention. This goes for gun control, for health care, for affirmative action programs, etc. Remember, it’s a sliding scale – saying this certainly doesn’t put me in the Ron Paul camp.

    For folks in academia, who have dedicated themselves to intellectual pursuits, it’s easy to lose faith in the judgment of the layman. The same is true for individuals such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet who’ve had no trouble climbing to the top of the pyramid at others expense (I have a great deal of respect for both of these individuals – I certainly don’t mean to knock them). If you’re one of these people, voting for someone like Obama (who shares your views on the layman) makes you feel like one of the good guys.

    Of course, I’m grossly oversimplifying matters here. In the real world it’s Democrat, Republican, or a wasted vote. Both parties have thrown their lot in with some truly horrifying special interest groups. However, weighing my options in this election, I will almost certainly vote for John McCain.

  37. harrison Says:

    My $0.02 NRA: I’m pretty much a redneck, and I do in fact oppose many forms of gun control (e.g. D.C.’s complete ban on handguns, which — let’s face it — did basically nothing to prevent crime in that city).

    But it’s a pretty big leap from that to “From my cold, dead hands!” So I think there are more shades of gray than Radford is able or willing to see here.

  38. Jeff Says:

    KaoriBlue,

    Some of us who lean “right” (or really more small-l libertarian I guess) don’t actually have an overabundance of faith in our fellow men to do the right thing. Rather, we have a respect for the dignity of our fellow men, and wish for them to be allowed to choose their own path, right or wrong, reaping the consequences of their actions.

    I don’t know who I will vote for. Either Democrat is just too hideously socialist to even consider. And McCain has sponsored too many “McCain-whoever” bills with Democrats. I don’t want a Republican who is bi-partisan. I want one who will fight for the smaller government the party insincerely says it wants.

    *sigh* Maybe voting 3rd-party can be viewed as a second-order strategy. Sure, it is wasted this election, but maybe over years or decades support for candidates with better policies will make a difference. (Nah, probably not, but it will make me feel better.)

  39. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    So if I made arrangments to donate to Greenpeace if I didn’t blow the dust off the exercycle…

  40. ScentOfViolets Says:

    When A.C. wants to know why so many mathematicians and computer scientists ‘lean to the left’, it is quite possible that this is simply a category error – sadly, heavily promoted by a lot of influential persons on the right. The opposite of ‘not to the right’ in this context is not ‘to the left’, and in fact, imho, many people who are said to ‘lean to the left’ are actually quite moderate centrists. For example, to believe that abstinence only programs are the not best way to curb unwanted pregnancies or venereal disease, that in fact sex education that gives instruction in the use of various birth control devices has been shown to be more effective is _not_ liberal. It’s simply accepting the best evidence there is to date on the subject. And yet, somehow, this is taken to be a ‘liberal’ position, not a centrist one, irrespective of any questions of ‘morality’.

    Is it any wonder then, that in a political climate that is so hostile to the basic notion of science, most scientists would be classed as ‘liberal’?

    For myself, sans certain changes of cultural tolerance over the last fifty years, I’d have to say I’m an Eisenhower Republican. No matter how many times I’m accused of being a ‘leftist’ for wanting, for example, to increase taxes to balance the budget, or to cut military spending for the same reason. :-)

  41. John Sidles Says:

    This thread has seen many avowals of faith in the power of reason, and in the efficiency of free markets, and in human beings as rational deciders … even though both history and science provide scant justification for any of these beliefs.

    Was it Wittgenstein who said “Books should consist mainly of examples”? … (here my memory no doubt is imperfect) … the point being that the capacity for self-delusion, error, willful ignorance, and even the outright abandonment of common sense not infrequently is seen to increase with intelligence and logical reasoning power.

    In the political sphere, a wonderfully Wittgensteinian (IMHO) book-of-examples is Doris Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

    Goodwin’s book vividly illustrates both the vast scope and the surprising limits of human reasoning power … whether moral, economic, or political.

    What’s the connection to mathematics, science, and engineering? That is IMHO a wonderfully interesting question! I will suggest that ane of the *best* aspects of modern mathematics in general, and information theory in particular, is its remarkable power of team-building.

    The reasons are simple: humans don’t trust one another very much … and with reason. But they *do* trust (within common-sense limits) the power of theorems, laws of nature, and engineering analysis.

    `Cuz duh, otherwise no one would ever fly in an airplane, drive over a bridge, or take medicine!

    IMHO, technological avenues for foster team-building and trust will be this century’s primary avenue of advance for ideals of the Enlightenment … and this advance will be powered in surprisingly large measure by information theory.

    Enterprises like the Human Genome Project, the Free Software Foundation, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and Google most of all, are IMHO only the beginning of a really fabulous epoch. :)

  42. Travis Says:

    A.C.:
    I think the reason is that a great many people choose their politics the same way they choose their clothes, hairstyle, etc.: they look at what others in their peer group do, and do the same.

    Within the academic world, many in the humanities tend to be actively and strongly left-wing, for complicated historical reasons. Most in the hard sciences are not nearly as politically active, but have taken on a patina of progressivism by association. It’s just easier, and it’s fun mocking rednecks.

    John Sidles:
    As someone who’s lived in one of those countries with socialized medicine and also in the US, I must say I greatly prefer the US way of doing things. Yes, health care is expensive in the US, but it’s so much better. It’s something I don’t really mind paying for, even if it does cost 10% of my income. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for improvement in the US, but I think socialized medicine is the wrong way to go.

  43. KaoriBlue Says:

    You know, I just have to say, the level of civil discourse here is astounding. I’m impressed! ^___^

  44. John Sidles Says:

    Travis says: As someone who’s lived in one of those countries with socialized medicine and also in the US, I must say I greatly prefer the US way of doing things.

    Travis, I am interested in your conclusion because it is so markedly orthogonal to the medical outcomes literature. Could you provide us with a PubMed link to a peer-reviewed comparative analysis?

    Statistically speaking, people like you are most often reasonably young, better educated than average, unmarried and/or with no dependents, in reasonably good health, having no life-threatening pre-existing conditions, employed in a low-risk white-collar profession, not physically disabled, and not the proprietor of a small business.

    Such people are in the minority. In which case, the medical dictum “the plural of anecdote is not data” applies. :)

  45. Joe Shipman Says:

    John, please give us a link to the “medical outcomes literature” you think proves that socialized medicine is better than the system we have in the U.S.A.

    My mother is a doctor who grew up in England, and she knows very well how disastrously that system has turned out. If you have anything seriously wrong with you where your chance of recovery is positively correlated with how soon you get treatment, you’d best come to the USA immediately. Also, if you are hospitalized, your chance of picking up a dangerous infection from the hospital is much greater in England.

    As long as you don’t have anything that is likely to require hospitalization, the NHS will merely be more annoying than the health system in the USA; whether it is actually less expensive varies depending on the level the individual would be taxed at in each country.

    It may well be true that the socialized system in certain Scandinavan countries actually is better than the system in the US by some reasonable measure of “outcomes” — but I know that can’t be true for Britain.

  46. Scott Says:

    Is it any wonder then, that in a political climate that is so hostile to the basic notion of science, most scientists would be classed as ‘liberal’?

    ScentOfViolets: In line with your question, the irony is that many people can’t believe how conservative I am. Do I really think communism was a bad idea (not just in its 20th-century incarnations but in principle), that global capitalism has its positive aspects, that Western civilization hasn’t been entirely terrible either, that affirmative action, the death penalty, and welfare raise complicated questions without obvious answers, that the US and Israel should be suffered to exist, or that nuclear power and genetic engineering should be encouraged? That’s why I always find it sort of funny when I’m taken as a stereotypical academic leftist extremist, and asked to defend myself as such.

  47. komponisto Says:

    That’s why I always find it sort of funny when I’m taken as a stereotypical academic leftist extremist, and asked to defend myself as such.

    Well, that’s because as Eliezer Yudkowsky explained, these categories are really about group membership. In this post, you loudly proclaim the “Bush is Bad!” cheer of the Left Side. Is it any wonder that the nuances of your actual thoughts get overlooked?

    (Interestingly, your juxtaposition of nuclear power with genetic engineering provides an illustration, in the context of European vs. American policies. European (particularly French) Team: nuclear power good, genetic engineering bad! American Team: nuclear power bad, genetic engineering good! Despite the fact that the same type of considerations apply to both.)

  48. John Sidles Says:

    Joe Shipman Says: John, please give us a link to the “medical outcomes literature” you think proves that socialized medicine is better than the system we have in the U.S.A.

    Really, Joe, did I ever express anything like the opinion you attribute to me? Read my posts again … you’ll find that I never said anything of the sort!

    As for your mom being a physician, good for her! My sister is a physician too … and at one time, she and your mom were alike in perceiving that the American system is somewhat less of a train-wreck than the patients at-large perceive it … until my sister had her own close encounter with serious illness in her own family.

    … and I remind you again of the strong selection biases that are inherent in anecdotal evidence.

    As for the peer-reviewed literature, a good starting point is the much-discussed JAMA review article Consumer-Driven Health Care: Lessons From Switzerland. Regrettably, the article is not free. :)

    Swiss-type plans are hybrids—they embody a mixed public-private strategy–and so they typically come under fire from the left-wing ideologues for being insufficiently socialist, and under fire from the right-wing ideologues for being insufficiently capitalist … and yet they somehow manage to perform reasonably well by most measures of efficiency, quality of care, and compassion … this commends them to me and to many other people!

    Anecdotally, the Swiss (and Canadian) physicians I know are very happy with their health-care systems … they regard us Americans as loony to have tolerated our present train-wreck of a system for as long as we have.

    The above is why the betting of our medical school MD faculty is that America is going to end up with a Swiss-style health-care system. :)

    And finally, a wonderfully written historical review that review these issues in immense depth is Kenneth M. Ludmerer’s Time to Heal: American Medical Education from the Turn of the Century to the Era of Managed Care.

  49. Scott Says:

    In this post, you loudly proclaim the “Bush is Bad!” cheer of the Left Side.

    Well, that is one issue on which I strongly agree with the Left (as well as the Middle and large parts of the Right).

  50. John Armstrong Says:

    The reasons are simple: humans don’t trust one another very much … and with reason. But they *do* trust (within common-sense limits) the power of theorems, laws of nature, and engineering analysis.

    `Cuz duh, otherwise no one would ever fly in an airplane, drive over a bridge, or take medicine!

    This hardly follows at all! You’re assuming that people even think about the theorems, laws of nature, and engineering analysis that sit behind airplanes, bridges, and medicines. The simple fact is that they don’t have any idea where such things come from.

  51. komponisto Says:

    Well, that is one issue on which I strongly agree with the Left (as well as the Middle and large parts of the Right).

    In that case, why even bother?

    “It is never worth a first-class man’s time to express a majority opinion.” – G.H. Hardy

    (Yeah, I know, the post was really about stickK.com rather than Bush. But still.)

  52. Leonid Says:

    I think it is more accurate to say that people with academic education tend be more radical rather than more liberal. While at present left-wing liberalism is the preferred radical doctrine of the West, this was not always the case. For instance, NSDAP enjoyed much higher support among German university students than among the general population. Likewise, Islamic radicalism is far more popular among Muslims with university degrees.

  53. Pin Says:

    Hey Scott,

    write a blog entry about Nicole Smalkowski, that should be an interesting read!

    Pin

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTRDRP2n4Sk

  54. Paul Beame Says:

    This discussion has Math/CS on the “left” and earlier posts had “libertarian” associated with parts of Physics.

    * It depends a lot on what you mean by “left”. I’ll bet that precious few mathematicians/computer scientists would subscribe to the de-constructionist view of the world (and science) that is strongly associated with the “left” in the social sciences.

    * In Math/CS the notion of what we have certainty about is very clear. Other issues are shades of gray by comparison. In the US, at least, anti-intellectualism has predominated and all sorts of issues that by this standard count as gray are painted as black and white by leaders on the “right”. This rankles.

    * In CS, the very process of the field involves rapid technology change which challenges existing order and is counter to the traditional conservatism associated with old line “right”. As a young field that came of age in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s CS also reflects the spirit of the era.

    * The libertarian streak (which seems big in Engineering too) also seems spurred in part by the anti-intellectual milieu: Why should I let a government whose authority stems from an anti-intellectual and poorly-educated majority impinge on me any more than absolutely necessary? I am smarter than they are.

  55. John Sidles Says:

    Paul Beame says: I’ll bet that precious few mathematicians/computer scientists would subscribe to the de-constructionist view of the world (and science) that is strongly associated with the “left” in the social sciences.

    Geez, Paul … that attitude is so 1990s! :)

    The left has moved on … see for example Paul Rabinow’s work … typical organizing principle for the post-post-modern school is “Philosophy is the ability to make friends through the medium of a written text” [from Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment].

    No doubt, plenty of folks will scoff, but as for myself, the more I read of this school of future-oriented and enterprise-oriented social anthropology, the more I find in it to like and admire.

    These days Prof. Rabinow holds the title “Director of Human Practices” for the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) … which is one of the NSF’s flagship Gen-3 Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) … and a program whose goals I happen to admire very much.

    The practical reality is this: any enterprise that aspires to Gen-3 and/or Gen-4 levels of achievement—in other words, any enterprise that aspires to the big leagues of science and technology—has to regard these ideas very carefully and seriously. Because these ideas are new and powerful.

  56. Jonathan Vos Post Says:

    First, anything within reason that induces Scott to publish more, on paper, parchment, carved into stone, or online is a good idea.

    Second, re #28, I’m a fairly old-school Capitalist, my grandfather having worked his way up from penniless immigrant (from the same Jewish district of Budapest that produced von Neumann, Wigner, Teller, Wigner, and Szilard) to founder of a sbrokerage and owner of a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. The interesting anti-Capitalists today include (strange bedfellows) various Ayatollahs, the Pope, Noam Chomsky, and that ex-math professor Theodore John Kaczynski.

    That being said, there are defects in unfettered Capitalism (more closely approximated in Singapore or India or Taiwan than in the USA) about which I am uncomfortably reminded whenever I go into an urban classroom as a substitute teacher. There is (long list of references starting with Jonathan Kozol omitted for brevity) a de facto resegregation of American public schools by race and income.

    Hence, although I come from a line of Wall Street Conservative Republicans, George W. Bush is a reductio ad absurdum to the underlying economic philosophy. My father, who happily voted for Nixon, Nixon, Reagan, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, drew the line and refused to vote for George W. Bush, whom he considered a traitor to his own family (remember that he kicked most of his daddy’s friends off his cabinet in his 2nd term), the party, the conservative cause, and the nation.

    I asked my son, when he was 17, if W was the worst president in the history of the USA. My son said: “Too soon to tell. He hasn’t made his worst decision YET!”

  57. Attila Smith Says:

    @Jonathan Vos Post
    “my grandfather having worked his way up from penniless immigrant (from the same Jewish district of Budapest that produced von Neumann, Wigner, Teller, Wigner, and Szilard)”
    So it is district genetics that explains your expertise.

    “I asked my son, when he was 17, if W was the worst president in the history of the USA.”
    Yes, it is always wise to have independent luminaries confirm your
    conjectures.

  58. wolfgang Says:

    Scott,

    I was hoping that you (or one of your smart readers) could tell me if this paper
    arxiv.org/abs/0806.0051
    about a relationship between super-symmetry and error correcting codes is as interesting as it seems at first glance.

    Thank you in advance if you (or somebody else) takes the time …

  59. student of maths Says:

    I am not sure what are you talking about, Scott…

    Exercise? Physical exercise? And how is doing exercise related to not giving money? Money to Bush????

    Sorry, this post can not be understood.

  60. Douglas Knight Says:

    Scott,
    what do you think of the claim that a consequentialist should give money to only one charity? (your response to Radford reminded me of this)

  61. Scott Says:

    what do you think of the claim that a consequentialist should give money to only one charity?

    That’s probably correct — and if so, for a bullet-dodger like me is a further argument against consequentialism.