“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)

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.

Journalism on the Left: “Nobody Censored What We Wrote”

(p. D7) James Ridgeway, an investigative reporter who exposed corporate dirty tricks, the secrets of environmental polluters and the horrors of solitary confinement in the nation’s prison systems, died on Saturday [Feb. 13, 2021] in Washington.

. . .

Mr. Ridgeway focused on the nation’s 2,200 public and private institutions of higher learning in “The Closed Corporation: American Universities in Crisis” (1968). The book contended that colleges and universities, hiding behind tax exemptions and interlocked with private corporations and government agencies, were riddled with conflicts of interest in a corrupt system of profiteering.

“Ridgeway notes that 50 years ago, the universities were run by social reformers and scholars,” H.L. Nieburg wrote in a review for The Times, “while today they are operated by teams of middle-management executives more involved with pyramiding financial holdings and keeping faculty in line than in undergraduates.”

. . .

In 2012, after the death of Alex Cockburn, with whom he had shared a column in The Voice, Mr. Ridgeway wrote in Mother Jones: “We did our reporting in a way that most people in the press would die for. Nobody censored what we wrote. Nobody messed with how things were written, or dreamed of questioning a political opinion.”

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. McFadden. “James Ridgeway, a Journalist Who Attacked Skulduggery, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times (Monday, February 15, 2021): D7.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Feb. 14, 2021, and has the title “James Ridgeway, Hard-Hitting Investigative Journalist, Dies at 84.”)

James Ridgeway’s book on higher education was:

Ridgeway, James. The Closed Corporation: American Universities in Crisis. New York: Random House, 1968.

Walter Williams Wrote That a Minimum Wage “Encourages Racial Discrimination”

(p. 26) Walter E. Williams, a prominent conservative economist, author and political commentator who expressed profoundly skeptical views of government efforts to aid his fellow African-Americans and other minority groups, died on Tuesday [Dec. 1, 2020] on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia, where he had taught for 40 years. He was 84.

His daughter, Devon Williams, said he died suddenly in his car after he had finished teaching a class.

. . .

In the 1970s, during a yearlong stint at the conservative-leaning Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University, Mr. Williams was commissioned by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress to study the ramifications of a minimum wage and of the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandated that laborers in federal construction projects be paid no less than the locally prevailing wages for corresponding work on similar projects in the area.

He outlined his findings in a 1977 report: A minimum wage causes high rates of teenage unemployment, especially among minority workers, and actually “encourages racial discrimination.”

He concluded, he recalled in an interview with The New York Times for this obituary in 2017, that the Davis-Bacon Act had “explicit racist motivations.”

Suppose, he said, that there are 10 secretaries, five of them white and five of them Black — all equally qualified — who are applying for a job. “If by law you must pay them all the same wage,” he said, “it doesn’t cost anything to discriminate against the Black secretaries.” Without such a mandate, he suggested, the Black secretaries would have a better chance at being gainfully employed, even if at lower pay.

In his book “The State Against Blacks” (1982), Mr. Williams was similarly critical of a host of government measures involving labor — from taxicab regulations to occupational licensing — that in his view wound up disproportionately harming Black people in the name of preventing discrimination.

For the full obituary, see:

Robert D. Hershey Jr. “Walter E. Williams, Conservative Economist on Black Issues, Is Dead at 84.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 26.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated December 7, 2020, and has the title “Walter E. Williams, 84, Dies; Conservative Economist on Black Issues.”)

Williams’s book, mentioned above, is:

Williams, Walter E. The State Against Blacks. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

To Force Gaffney to Retire at Age 65, They Only Let Him Teach Intro Courses; So He Taught Intro Courses Until Age 89

(p. B11) Professor Gaffney died at 96 on July 16 at Loma Linda University Medical Center, not far from the University of California, Riverside, where he taught economics for 37 years.  . . .

Taxing land is less intrusive than taxing income or estates, Professor Gaffney taught, drawing on Henry George’s influential 1879 book, “Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry Into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want With Increase of Wealth: The Remedy,” reportedly the best-selling popular book in America in the 1890s.

. . .

The idea that land creates a natural economic surplus that can be taxed with minimal economic damage has drawn supporters from across the political spectrum.

Winston Churchill declared in 1910 that the “land monopoly is not the only monopoly, but it is by far the greatest of monopolies — it is a perpetual monopoly, and it is the mother of all other forms of monopoly.”

The economist Milton Friedman, another conservative, called the land-value tax “the least bad tax.”

And Tony Blair, the former British prime minister and Labour Party leader, urged a land-only tax as a “fairer and more rational system of property taxation.”

The idea has never been widely embraced by lawmakers, though. Only about 20 communities in Pennsylvania impose a version of the land-value tax concept. It has also been applied in parts of Australia and Taiwan.

. . .

Mason Gaffney enrolled at Harvard University in 1941. Drafted in 1944, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Forces and served in radio communications in New Guinea and the Philippines until 1946.

Returning to civilian life, he transferred to Reed College in Oregon to complete his bachelor’s degree, unhappy that his professors at Harvard knew little of Henry George’s work. He then moved to the University of California, Berkeley, to get his doctorate.

. . .

He started teaching at the University of California, Riverside, in 1976. He once said in an interview that as he was about to turn 65 he was pressured to retire. He refused, he said, and was told he had to teach Econ 101.

“I was delighted,” he said. “I got a chance to indoctrinate students about economic theories so they weren’t stunted by the standard neoclassical texts.”

He retired in 2013, at 89.

For the full obituary, see:

David Cay Johnston. “Mason Gaffney, 96, Economics Professor Who Argued for Taxing Only Land, Not Buildings.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 30, 2020): B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 26, and has the title “Mason Gaffney, Who Argued for Taxing Only Land, Dies at 96.”)

The influential book by Henry George mentioned above is:

George, Henry. Progress and Poverty. 5th ed. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1881.

With Race-Based College Admissions “Everyone Is at Each Other’s Throat”

(p. A3) Richard Alvarez, a senior of Mexican heritage, is waiting to hear from the University of Chicago. He said his school has spent years educating students about race, but now that the college crunch has arrived that sensitivity training “has gone out the window.”

“Everyone is at each other’s throat,” he said. “White students have this thing that brown and black students unfairly get into schools over them.”

For the full story, see:

Douglas Belkin. “Identity Box Vexes College Applicants.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 24, 2019): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 23, 2019, and has the title “The Most Agonizing Question on a College Application: What’s Your Race?”)

“Robinson Insisted That Creativity Can Be Taught”

(p. B12) Ken Robinson, a dynamic, influential proponent of stimulating the creativity of students that has too often been squelched by schools in the service of conformity, died on Aug. 21 [2020] at his home in London.

. . .

Mr. Robinson consulted with governments and schools around the world, conducted workshops and wrote books, including “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” (2001) and “You, Your Child and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education” (2018), with Lou Aronica.

He preached that schools needed not only to broaden their curriculums but also to support teachers as creative professionals and to personalize learning by breaking large classrooms — artificial environments that invite boredom, he said — into small groups.

“Kids will take a chance,” he said in the TED Talk. “If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong.” But, he added, “By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.”

Mr. Robinson insisted that creativity can be taught — not through direct instruction, but by giving students opportunities, inspiration, encouragement and mentoring.

The educator Salman Khan said that his popular online website Khan Academy draws on Mr. Robinson’s teachings in part by personalizing curriculums to meet individual students’ needs.

“He opened our eyes to an educational system that isn’t fair to a lot of kids and holds back their potential,” Mr. Khan said in a phone interview. “He helped a lot of educators, including myself, say, ‘Hey, look, this is a time to change.’ ”

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Ken Robinson, Who Encouraged Schools to Nurture Creativity, Is Dead at 70.” The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020): B12.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 11, 2020, and has the title “Ken Robinson, Who Preached Creativity in Teaching, Dies at 70.”)

The updated third edition of Ken Robinson’s first book mentioned above is:

Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative. New York: Wiley, 2017.