Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It happened again.

Someplace attained a record, unseasonable cold temperature, so my favorite wingnut sent me a link to the story with a snide comment about “Global warming, huh?” This happens every time there is an unusual snowfall or late frost or whatever.

Now, the fact of the matter is, every one of these incidents can be seen as further evidence for the global-warming model. As the earth absorbs heat, it does so very unevenly. There are certain hotspots that warm up more quickly, and other cold spots that take on heat more slowly. The result is that there is more total heat energy in the system, and the atmosphere of the earth functions like one large and very complex heat engine that becomes wilder and more unpredictable in its actions as more energy pours into the system.

Yes, overall, the temperature is going up (very rapidly on a geological scale, but apparently much more slowly on a human scale). But what is increasing much more rapidly than the mean temperature is the total craziness in the weather machinery. More energy, absorbed very unevenly at various points on the globe, means greater turbulent variation in high and low-pressure systems, dramatic and unpredictable shifts in ocean currents, and a general increase in events that are outside the norm.

Put in statistical terms, the variance is increasing much more rapidly than the mean. The net result is that the wild swings in the weather are much more dramatic than are the comparatively small, but cumulatively disastrous, upward trends in temperature. We observe a set of record low temperatures in some locations that seem to cancel out the string of record high temperatures that are occurring elsewhere. But when we attend merely to the individual temperatures, we are missing the main point, which is that we are seeing unprecedented extremes in the weather, and it is these extremes--both high and low--that are the signature of global warming.

Friday, July 24, 2009

In Defense of Lou Dobbs

Lou Dobbs has apparently been giving air time to the "Birthers," i.e. the loonies who question President Obama's birth certificate, believe he was born in Kenya, etc. The Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to CNN calling for Lou to be fired for his racist lunacy. I see the issue somewhat differently, so I wrote the following letter to CNN:

July 24, 2009

Jonathan Klein
1 Time Warner Center
New York, N.Y. 10019-6038

Dear Mr. Klein:

Please do not give in to the demands of the Left that Lou Dobbs be censored on the topic of Obama’s birth documentation. Doesn’t the political Right deserve fair treatment? If, as Stephen Colbert once observed, “The truth has a well-known liberal bias,” then isn’t the Right entitled to present a counterbalance of disinformation and deception? As your rival Fox News has so effectively demonstrated, there is ample room for half-truths, deceit, and outright lies in American journalism. Story fabrication in order to advance conservative causes has a long history in the American press, and there is no good reason why you should surrender this viable and even lucrative market to the likes of Hannity and O’Reilly. Put simply, if we don’t have Lou to lie to us, we will have to turn elsewhere to find the fuel to sustain our bigotry and otherwise indefensible hatred, and your viewership can only suffer if you shortsightedly deny a voice to the opinions of the batshit-crazy segment of the population.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another Take on Freedom of Information

I'm a psychologist, and have to do a fair amount of reading in order to keep up with my field--reading that requires access to professional journals. Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to get to the journals I need because I am a private practitioner with no academic affiliation. I do have access to some journals because of (expensive) memberships in professional societies, but there are many journals I cannot get to online. As a result, I end up having to submit individual article requests to libraries, write to authors for reprints, beg copies of articles off colleagues, etc.

There are starting to appear some open-access, peer-reviewed online journals. This is a development I heartily applaud. I hope this trend becomes the norm for scientific and professional publishing in the future.

In the meantime, however, in most cases we're stuck with the old model of journals put out by for-profit publishing houses and the consequent profit-driven limitations to access. I don't mean to denigrate the profit system per se, but the restricted nature of primary-source scientific information pisses me off, especially when I consider that my tax dollars go to support much of the research to which I am being denied access. But beyond that, I think everyone should have access to this kind of public information. Why should a poor person be blocked from knowledge easily available to the oppressor class?

There has to be a better way to finance the journals. For example, why not add a small amount onto each research grant sufficient to pay for the dissemination of the findings of the research? Or, for those rare research projects without public or corporate financing, perhaps some scheme for government subsidization of publication. Any journal that publishes publicly financed research should be reimbursed from public funds for publishing the results of the research. Seems like a simple and nearly perfect solution to me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Curmudgeon's Guide to Health Care

I must say I favor a free-market approach to health care: a system in which you can choose your own providers, and where you don't get punished for being taken to the wrong hospital by the wrong ambulance while you're unconscious. You know--a truly competitive system where the good providers get lots of patients and the poor ones get driven out of business because word gets around and nobody will go to them. A system where you and your provider decide what's needed for your care without interference from the corporate beancounters.

Our present system anything but a free market for consumers. Your insurance company dictates what doctor you can see, what hospital you can go to, and whether or not you're going to get that expensive test or procedure. As long as you are well, you are a profit source for them. If you get sick, you become a problem. If you get too expensive to them, they're pretty good at finding ways to dump you. And, as a side-effect of our ingenious employer-based health care payment system, if you get too ill to keep your job, you will automatically end up on the discard heap.

Very few of us can actually afford the kind of care that we might someday need--bypass surgery, say, or cancer treatment. We therefore must have a system in which relatively small payments from the many who do not need expensive interventions help to pay for the relatively few who do need expensive care. That means that the young and healthy need to pay in to the system during those periods of their lives when they aren't using much health care so that their elders can be cared for--and so that someday they too can be cared for in their time of need.

No for-profit insurance scheme will ever provide free-market health care. By their very nature, insurance companies are structured to make profits by denying needed services. They reward the providers who cost them the least, not the ones who save or improve the quality of the most lives.

The great paradox of the Western world is that only way to provide a free market for providers is through universal, tax-funded single-payer health care. In this system, the government serves as the collector and disburser of health care funds. You pay into the health care system--ideally through income taxes--and when you need health services, you go to the doctor of your choice, she treats you, she submits her bill to the government, and they pay. That's the way it works in much of the civilized world, and that's the way it should work here.