University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman Center Now Run by “Former Obama Staffers Who Cheer” . . . “Moves Toward Socialism”

(p. A15) Colleges’ ideological turn leftward has become sharper. At my own institution, a center dedicated to Milton Friedman is now run by former Obama staffers who cheer on the Biden administration’s moves toward socialism.

These policies reward professors and administrators who can then raise the price of their services. It’s basic economics that subsidizing demand increases the price of the product. Tuition rising as loan subsidies expand is no different. It isn’t a coincidence that education and health care, the industries in which government subsidies are most pervasive, took the highest price increases over the past 15 years—3.7% and 3.1% a year, compared with the 1.8% average across industries.

For the full commentary, see:

Tomas J. Philipson. “College Subsidies Are a Feedback Loop for Bigger Government.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 11, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 10, 2021, and has the title “College Subsidies Are a Feedback Loop for Bigger Government.”)

Carolyn Shoemaker Developed Tacit Knowledge of Presence of Comets and Asteroids

(p. B6) Carolyn Shoemaker, who for more than a decade managed a telescopic camera with her husband from a high-altitude observatory in California and became widely regarded, without academic training, as the world’s foremost detector of comets and asteroids, died on Aug. 13 [2021] at a hospital in Flagstaff, Ariz.

. . .

In the afternoons, Dr. Shoemaker would take the film they had used the previous night and develop it in a darkroom, then turn over the negatives to Ms. Shoemaker. Using a stereoscope, she would compare exposures of the same block of sky at different times. If anything moved against the relatively fixed background of stars, it would appear to float in the viewing device’s eyepiece.

Ms. Shoemaker was charged with discerning what was the grain of the film (and perhaps dust on it) and what was an actual image of light emitted by an object hurtling through space. “With time,” she wrote, “I saw fainter and fainter objects.”

It took a few years before she found her first new comet, in 1983. By 1994 she had discovered, in addition to hundreds of asteroids, 32 comets, a number considered by the United States Geological Survey and others to represent the world record at the time.

. . .

One comet, known as Shoemaker-Levy 9 (named in part for their associate David Levy), had stood out from the rest. Rather than making a lonely journey through the cosmic vacuum, Shoemaker-Levy 9 was on a collision course with Jupiter.

. . .

“Carolyn Shoemaker is one of the most revered and respected astronomers in history,” Jennifer Wiseman, a senior scientist overseeing the Hubble Space Telescope, said by phone. “Her discoveries, her tenacious care in how she did her work — those things have created a legacy and a reputation that has inspired people who have come into the field after her.”

. . .

. . . scientists still depend on methods that Ms. Shoemaker perfected.

“She and her colleagues set the stage for how to identify what we would call minor bodies in our solar system, such as comets and asteroids,” Dr. Wiseman said. “We still use the technique of looking for the relatively fast transverse motions of comets and asteroids in our own solar system, as compared to the slower or more fixed position of stars.”

For the full obituary, see:

Alex Traub. “Carolyn Shoemaker, 92, a Stargazer Who Spotted Comets and Asteroids.” The New York Times (Monday, September 6, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Sept. 4, 2021, and has the title “Carolyn Shoemaker, Hunter of Comets and Asteroids, Dies at 92.”)

Center-Left Biothreat Expert Says Many Scientists Rejected Wuhan Lab Origin, Not Due to Evidence, but Due to Trump

(p. A13) A few months before Covid-19 became a pandemic, Filippa Lentzos started reading about unusual flu cases in Wuhan, China. Ms. Lentzos, a social scientist who studies biological threats, belongs to an email group she describes as consisting of “ex-intelligence, bioweapons specialists, experts, former State Department diplomats” and others “who have worked in arms control, biological disarmament.”

As Chinese authorities struggled to contain the outbreak, she recalls, the expert circle asked questions about the pathogen’s origin: “Is this security related? Is it military? Is there something dodgy going on? What information are we not getting here?”

. . .

. . . in February 2020, a group of scientists had published a statement in the Lancet calling out “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.” The New York Times and Washington Post dutifully attacked Mr. Cotton as unhinged. Media, with an assist from some virologists, dismissed the lab-leak theory as “debunked.”

Ms. Lentzos, who places her own politics on the Swiss “center left,” thought that conclusion premature and said so publicly. In May 2020, she published an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists weighing whether “safety lapses in the course of basic scientific research” caused the pandemic. While acknowledging there was, “as of yet, little concrete evidence,” she noted “several indications that collectively suggest this is a serious possibility that needs following up by the international community.”

. . .

The article barely made a ripple. “If you look at the argumentation that’s used today, it’s exactly the same basically as what I laid out, which was, accidents happen,” she says. “We know that they’re having questions around safety. We know they were doing this field work. We see videos where they’re in breach of standard biosafety protocol. We know China is manipulating the narrative, closing down information sources—all of that stuff. All of that is in there. But it didn’t get much traction.”

. . .

American liberals—including many scientists—conflated open-mindedness about the question with support for Mr. Trump. Ms. Lentzos was one of the few who could separate their distaste for him from their analysis of the pandemic.

. . .

The most significant problem came from the scientific community. “Some of the scientists in this area very quickly closed ranks,” she says, and partisanship wasn’t their only motive: “Like most things in life, there are power plays. There are agendas that are part of the scientific community. Just like any other community, there are strong vested interests. There were people that did not talk about this, because they feared for their careers. They feared for their grants.”

Ms. Lentzos counsels against idealizing scientists and in favor of “seeing science and scientific activity, and how the community works, not as this inner sacred sanctum that’s devoid of any conflicts of interests, or agendas, or any of that stuff, but seeing it as also a social activity, where there are good players and bad players.”

Take Peter Daszak, the zoologist who organized the Lancet letter condemning lab-leak “conspiracy theories.” He had directed millions of dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology through his nonprofit, EcoHealth Alliance. A lab mistake that killed millions would be bad for his reputation. Other researchers have taken part in gain-of-function research, which can make viruses deadlier or easier to transmit. Who would permit, much less fund, such research if it proved so catastrophic? Yet researchers like Marion Koopmans, who oversees an institution that has conducted gain-of-function research, had an outsize voice in media. Both she and Mr. Daszak served on the World Health Organization’s origin investigation team.

. . .

Ms. Lentzos has experience working with United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization. “It was incredibly exciting to finally go in. And then you become more disillusioned when you see how things operate, how things don’t operate,” she says. “Like any large organization, they are slow, and inflexible, and bureaucratic.”

For the full interview see:

Adam O’Neal, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; A Scientist Who Said No to Covid Groupthink.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 12, 2021): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date June 11, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Entrepreneur Roger’s Reward for Solving a Puzzle: “A Bigger and More Complicated Puzzle”

(p. C6) Growing up in Battle Ground, Wash., James Rogers wanted to be an inventor.

. . .

Some 25 years since those afternoons with his “invention journal,” Mr. Rogers, 35, is now promoting a scientific discovery that could improve the global food-supply chain. His company, Apeel, applies an edible, plant-based coating to fruits and vegetables that extends their shelf life without refrigeration.

Apeel-treated avocados, limes, apples and cucumbers are already in some of the largest grocery chains in the U.S. and Europe. The startup now plans to expand into markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America, thanks to a $30 million investment from the International Finance Corp., the World Bank’s private-sector arm. The company Mr. Rogers launched in 2012 as a Ph.D. student is now valued at more than $1 billion.

. . .

Mr. Rogers has had to prove that more time not only reduced waste but also boosted sales. According to the Edeka Group, which runs more than 11,000 grocery stores in Germany, a pilot launch of Apeel avocados in nearly 3,000 stores in 2020 resulted in 50% less waste and a 20% rise in sales. Edeka swiftly agreed to carry Apeel avocados, oranges and clementines across all of its stores.

. . .

Mr. Rogers had been a student all his life when he launched Apeel at age 27. Did his youth and inexperience create problems? “It may have helped,” he says. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I wasn’t overwhelmed.”

He has discovered, for example, that every fruit and vegetable has its own idiosyncratic supply chain, and Apeel works to pinpoint where time has the most value. He has also learned that delivering avocados to Europeans throughout the year means working with lots of different countries (Chile, Israel, Morocco, South Africa, etc.), each of which has its own unique supply chain, regulatory hurdles and distinct avocado.

“Working at a startup, you just have to really love puzzles,” he says. “Your reward for solving your current puzzle? A bigger and more complicated puzzle.”

For the full story, see:

Emily Bobrow. “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; James Rogers.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date January 8, 2021, and has the title “WEEKEND CONFIDENTIAL; Apeel CEO James Rogers Wants to Extend the Shelf Life of Your Avocados and Oranges.”)

Those Lacking Degrees Are Cheaper, More Loyal, and Often Equally Able

(p. B5) Millions of jobs requiring a four-year college degree can be done without that level of education, some corporate leaders say.

To address inequalities in business and society, some executives suggest that companies shake up their approach to hiring and consider unconventional candidates. Black Americans in particular are often left unprepared by the U.S. education system, and companies could help by hiring workers without a degree and giving them training, Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co., said Tuesday at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit.

“It’s really important for us to recognize that because people haven’t had an opportunity early in their lives, it doesn’t mean that they can’t make a real contribution to your company,” Mr. Frazier said.

. . .

“We get many people who are cheaper, they’re just as good, they’re very loyal because this gives them an opportunity,” he said. “For those of us who are insiders now by virtue of our success and our positions in companies, we need to extend ourselves and reach out, and bring in people who may not be the people that we’re comfortable with, and may not be the first person that we think of.”

For the full story, see:

Chip Cutter. “Some CEOs Suggest Hiring More People Without Degrees.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, May 6, 2021): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 5, 2021, and has the title “Some CEOs Suggest Dropping Degree Requirements in Hiring.”)

“As a Species, We’re Very Good At Adapting”

(p. A11) Barack Obama is one of many who have declared an “epistemological crisis,” in which our society is losing its handle on something called truth.

Thus an interesting experiment will be his and other Democrats’ response to a book by Steven Koonin, who was chief scientist of the Obama Energy Department. Mr. Koonin argues not against current climate science but that what the media and politicians and activists say about climate science has drifted so far out of touch with the actual science as to be absurdly, demonstrably false.

. . .

Mr. Koonin still has a lot of Brooklyn in him: a robust laugh, a gift for expression and for cutting to the heart of any matter. His thoughts seem to be governed by an all-embracing realism. Hence the book coming out next month, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.”

Any reader would benefit from its deft, lucid tour of climate science, the best I’ve seen. His rigorous parsing of the evidence will have you questioning the political class’s compulsion to manufacture certainty where certainty doesn’t exist. You will come to doubt the usefulness of centurylong forecasts claiming to know how 1% shifts in variables will affect a global climate that we don’t understand with anything resembling 1% precision.

. . .

Mr. Koonin is a practitioner and fan of computer modeling. “There are situations where models do a wonderful job. Nuclear weapons, when we model them because we don’t test them anymore. And when Boeing builds an airplane, they will model the heck out of it before they bend any metal.”

“But these are much more controlled, engineered situations,” he adds, “whereas the climate is a natural phenomenon. It’s going to do whatever it’s going to do. And it’s hard to observe. You need long, precise observations to understand its natural variability and how it responds to external influences.”

Yet these models supply most of our insight into how the weather might change when emissions raise the atmosphere’s CO2 component from 0.028% in preindustrial times to 0.056% later in this century. “I’ve been building models and watching others build models for 45 years,” he says. Climate models “are not to the standard you would trust your life to or even your trillions of dollars to.”

. . .

Let technology and markets work at their own pace. The climate might continue to change, at a pace that’s hard to perceive, but societies will adapt. “As a species, we’re very good at adapting.”

. . .

. . . , the mainstream climate community will try to ignore his book, even as his publicists work the TV bookers in hopes of making a splash. Then Mr. Koonin knows will come the avalanche of name-calling that befalls anybody trying to inject some practical nuance into political discussions of climate.

He adds with a laugh: “My married daughter is happy that she’s got a different last name.”

For the full interview, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., interviewer. “How a Physicist Became a Climate Truth Teller.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 17, 2021): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date April 16, 2021, and has the title “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher’ Review: A Heart in the Right Place.”)

Koonin’s climate book, discussed in the interview quoted above, is:

Koonin, Steven E. Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 2021.

“My Fellow Liberals Have Largely Abandoned Free Speech”

(p. A15) ‘Professor, why are you so conservative about free speech?” Several students have asked me versions of this question recently, which speaks volumes about universities right now. I’m a liberal and a Democrat: I’m pro-choice, pro-ObamaCare and vehemently anti-Trump. But I’m also a strong supporter of free speech, which marks me as a right-winger on campus.

That’s because my fellow liberals have largely abandoned free speech to conservatives. Turn on Fox News, and you’ll see “cancel culture” decried in bright lights. But in the liberal press—and most of all in the liberal academy—free speech has become a rhetorical third rail. Sure, we’ll invoke it when Republican state lawmakers try to ban critical race theory. But in our own house, free speech is seen increasingly as a tool of repression rather than liberation.

. . .

I get it. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the free-speech winds are blowing these days. It’s prudent to keep your big mouth shut. But that’s anathema to a liberal university, which requires debating differences fully and openly.

. . .

When speech can be suppressed, the people with the least power are likely to lose the most. That’s why every great tribune of social justice in American history—including Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. —was also a zealous advocate for free speech. Without it, they couldn’t critique the indignities and oppression that they suffered.

For the full commentary, see:

Jonathan Zimmerman. “When Will Liberals Reclaim Free Speech?.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, April 8, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 7, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Clarity Is Rewarded, at Least Among Cave Experts

After Deirdre McCloskey published her classic “Economical Writing” in Economic Inquiry, Jack High published a critique in the same journal arguing that young economists would ruin their careers if they followed McCloskey’s advice to write clearly. High claimed that clear writing would be less published and economists who wrote more clearly would therefore be less likely to receive tenure. McCloskey published a rebuttal saying that clear writing was more likely to be published, to be read, and to help the writer receive tenure. But she added that even if she was wrong about that, we should try to write clearly because it is the right thing to do.

The study mentioned below provides some evidence to support McCloskey’s claim that clarity is rewarded.

(p. D2) . . . a team of researchers has analyzed jargon in a set of over 21,000 scientific manuscripts. The study focused on manuscripts written by scientists who study caves, . . .

They found that papers containing higher proportions of jargon in their titles and abstracts were cited less frequently by other researchers. Science communication — with the public but also among scientists — suffers when a research paper is packed with too much specialized terminology, the team concluded.

For the full story, see:

Katherine Kornei. “Confused by All That Scientific Jargon? So Are the Scientists.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 13, 2021): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Are You Confused by Scientific Jargon? So Are Scientists.” Where the wording in the online version differs from the wording in the print version, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

The study discussed in the passages quoted above is:

Martínez, Alejandro, and Stefano Mammola. “Specialized Terminology Reduces the Number of Citations of Scientific Papers.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Britain (April 7, 2021)
https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.2581.

The McCloskey classic article, and the exchange with Jack High, are:

McCloskey, Deirdre. “Economical Writing.” Economic Inquiry 23, no. 2 (April 1985): 187-222.

High, Jack C. “The Costs of Economical Writing.” Economic Inquiry 25, no. 3 (July 1987): 543-45.

McCloskey, Deirdre. “Reply to Jack High.” Economic Inquiry 25, no. 3 (July 1987): 547-548.

Cancel Culture Comes for Odysseus

I took a couple of years of classical Greek in college from “Doc” Charles, a senior member of the Wabash College faculty. One year we read Homer’s The Odyssey; the other year we read Plato’s “Apology” and the Greek New Testament; I don’t remember for sure which we read first. But I think we read The Odyssey in the second year, when I was the only student in the course. I got credit for taking the course; but with only one student, Doc Charles did not get credit for teaching it. One of my abiding regrets is that I never took the time in later years to thank Doc Charles. When our daughter Jenny’s middle school class read a little bit of an English translation of The Odyssey, I grabbed my own copy of the English translation and read her a few paragraphs that I thought she would like. Jenny is partial to the dachshund breed of hound dogs. The paragraphs I read were about Odysseus finally entering Ithaca after 10 years of fighting the Trojan War and another 10 years of struggling to return home. After 20 years’ absence the first humans he meets do not recognize him. But an old hound dog who was his puppy when he left Ithaca, rises to its feet and wags its tail in greeting. The Odyssey is about loyalty and resilience and loving your hound dog. Created many centuries ago, it connects us to ancestors with whom we still share values, challenges, and hopes. Odysseus was a flawed hero but he was a hero. We should defend our right to read the story of his struggles.

(p. A15) A sustained effort is under way to deny children access to literature. Under the slogan #DisruptTexts, critical-theory ideologues, schoolteachers and Twitter agitators are purging and propagandizing against classic texts—everything from Homer to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Dr. Seuss.

. . .

The demands for censorship appear to be getting results. “Be like Odysseus and embrace the long haul to liberation (and then take the Odyssey out of your curriculum because it’s trash),” tweeted Shea Martin in June [2020]. “Hahaha,” replied Heather Levine, an English teacher at Lawrence (Mass.) High School. “Very proud to say we got the Odyssey removed from the curriculum this year!” When I contacted Ms. Levine to confirm this, she replied that she found the inquiry “invasive.”

For the full commentary, see:

Meghan Cox Gurdon. “Even Homer Gets Mobbed.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 28, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Dec. 27, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Basing Jobs on Skills Instead of Credentials Increases Fairness, Efficiency, and Opportunity

(p. B5) For the past four decades, incomes rose for those with college degrees and fell for those without one. But a body of recent and new research suggests that the trend need not inevitably continue.

As many as 30 million American workers without four-year college degrees have the skills to realistically move into new jobs that pay on average 70 percent more than their current ones. That estimate comes from a collaboration of academic, nonprofit and corporate researchers who mined data on occupations and skills.

. . .

“We need to rethink who is skilled, and how skills are measured and evaluated,” said Peter Q. Blair, a labor economist at Harvard, who was a member of the research team.

In recent years, labor experts and work force organizations have argued that hiring should increasingly be based on skills rather than degrees, as a matter of fairness and economic efficiency. The research provides quantified evidence that such a shift is achievable.

. . .

The researchers published a broad look at the jobs, wages and skills of workers who have a high school diploma but not a four-year college degree as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper this year. They found a significant overlap between the skills required in jobs that pay low wages and many occupations with higher pay — a sizable landscape of opportunity.

. . .

A report published this week, involving most of the same researchers, examined the pathways to higher-paying jobs for these workers, their experience and the obstacles encountered. It employed proprietary data and interviews, as well as the government data used in the first study.

For the full story, see:

Steve Lohr. “Up to 30 Million Workers in U.S. Have Abilities to Earn 70% More.” The New York Times (Monday, December 7, 2020): B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 3, 2020, and has the title “Up to 30 Million in U.S. Have the Skills to Earn 70% More, Researchers Say.”)

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper mentioned above is:

Blair, Peter Q., Tomas G. Castagnino, Erica L. Groshen, Papia Debroy, Byron Auguste, Shad Ahmed, Fernando Garcia Diaz, and Cristian Bonavida. “Searching for Stars: Work Experience as a Job Market Signal for Workers without Bachelor’s Degrees.” National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., NBER Working Paper #26844, March 2020.

The later report that used proprietary data and interviews is:

“Navigating with the Stars: Reimagining Equitable Pathways to Mobility.” Opportunity@Work, Nov. 2020.

Video of Diamond Q&A on Innovation Unbound Posted to YouTube

On 3/17/21 Derek Yonai posted my 3/16/21 live Q&A session related to my “Innovation Unbound” lecture that was recorded on 3/1/21 and posted on 3/9/21. Some of my lecture and some of my answers in the Q&A, were related to my book:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.