Archive for the Science Category

US Census Bureau Quick Facts

Posted in Economics, Policy, Science with tags , on January 21, 2010 by Josh Wittner

While I was doing some research today I found this super cool (for dorks like me) Us Census Bureau site that gives quick facts about states and cities:

US Census Bureau: Quick Facts

Here’s Washington and Seattle.


Universal Healthcare: A Response

Posted in Law, Politics, Religion, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2009 by Josh Wittner

My last post calling out Christians for not supporting Universal Healthcare when it seems like such a “Christ-like” action generated some comments that I’d like to more fully respond to because they are interesting and I hear a couple of them a lot, though I don’t agree with them, and so a new more Universal Healthcare oriented post is warranted.

Ovi writes:

I understand your point, but I would think the Christ-like decision would in fact be to support the church helping people in their own way, not by order of the King/State.

I don’t think Universal Healthcare in general works… There are people in Canada who have it and cross the border to the US because they have to wait to get treatment in their country… Countries in Europe who have similar systems get most of their medicine from the US because the best medicine and technology comes from the efficient competition-based free market of the US.

When you see stats about people who don’t have healthcare, keep in mind that some people don’t want it and others can in fact afford it, but just don’t get it for whatever reason. So the people who really need it and don’t have family and friends to help them and don’t go to current free clinics that are available, there are a very few of.

Lets take these one by one. First off, the bible is pretty clear that Jesus supports paying taxes (though certainly more vague about voting for legislation that will create taxes). We can extrapolate from this that either Jesus is in favor of bowing to power when taxes are concerned, or in general not opposed to taxation. So I stand by my statement that Jesus would vote for Universal Healthcare, and so supporting it would be a very Christ-like thing to do even if it increased taxes.

Secondly, I think before we can decide whether Universal Healthcare works, we need to define what “works” means. It is my belief that the goal of health care is to provide medical services that extend life, and that the best solution will extend life the most with the least cost. Literally every other industrialized country in the world has some form of Universal Healthcare so we should be able to compare our situation to theirs and determine at least if what we have works better than what they have.

Canadians do see a wait time for elective procedure (emergency procedures are of course handled immediately) but not all of the countries that have single-payer systems like Canada’s have the same problems, and the elderly in the US who use our single-payer system, Medicare (named after Canada’s) certainly don’t see any longer wait times than then non-elderly in the US. The proposals on hand don’t mirror the Canadian system very much, so this isn’t really on the table as an option anyways. I’d be willing to more thoroughly cover this if there is interest.

I haven’t run into any references to new medical technology production in Europe vs. the US but I have done some review of the production of new pharmaceuticals, often referred to as New Chemical Entities or NCEs. This study for example shows that the US dominance in the pharmaceutical industry is a myth and is in fact continuing to wain. Some argue that this isn’t because of the US’s high priced free-market so much as Europe’s ability to run more efficiently, though no one is positing why that is yet. Also we shouldn’t discount that most discovery research in the US is done largely with the $28 billion dollars in research funds provided by the NIH every year, the pharmaceutical companies tend to pick up drugs only after they’re ready for clinical trials. The NIH is a tax funded institute of the US government.

So lets compare the metrics of other countries with the US for health/cost to determine which system works better by my definition of works. The US spends per capita more money on health care than any of its industrialized counterparts, in fact nearly twice as much. The US also sees 60% of its bankruptcies related to medical bills, something that simply doesn’t happen in other developed countries. The argument here goes that we see better outcomes, that is, you get what you pay for. But this simply isn’t true either. The US has the lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates of any of its industrialized contemporaries. We spend more on health care as a percentage of GDP than any other country in the world yet the WHO ranks us as 37th out of 191, just above Slovenia.

The waiting lists in Canada are used as form of rationing health care usage over time, and is rightly pointed out as such, but arguing against rationing is not arguing against Universal Healthcare. The US has rationing too, but it’s done more amorally: we let poor people die. Other systems spend less, get better outcomes, and quite frankly evince more compassion than our system.

Finally, making the statement that a significant number of the 35+ million Americans who don’t have health insurance, or even more so the roughly 45,000 Americans who die every year due to it’s lack, don’t want health insurance seems seriously absurd, but may be worth investigating. I couldn’t find any research addressing the question and I don’t think it’s overstepping to speculate that its because everyone thinks it’s obvious, but I would support research into the issue.

I invite Ovi to contradict anything I’ve said here and to more thoroughly support his points as well. Also I’d be interested in his thoughts on taxation in general so that I could more thoroughly understand them. For example, “Do you seek to remove all taxes?” Also if anyone has more questions or wants sources for the things I didn’t provide (which are plenty) I’ll gladly dig em’ up again (this is a standing invitation for anything I write).

Sarah Palin and Evolution

Posted in Politics, Religion, Science with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by Josh Wittner

Apparently Sarah Palin, the ex-governor of Alaska, previous vice presidential candidate, and future presidential hopeful doesn’t believe in evolution. She thinks that creationism should be taught along side evolution in science classes. Here’s the thing about creationism for those of you who don’t follow it: it’s faith, not science. The strongest forms 0f creationists believe that evolution is false, basically because it doesn’t fit in with their world view which was indoctrinated into most of them in childhood. The weakest forms accept evolution by pulling the standard “god of the gaps” routine by stating that while god didn’t create us as we are, He create the initial forms of life and guided the process of evolution. How and why? Who knows, god works in sometimes mysterious ways.

Why isn’t creationism/intelligent design (which are the same thing) science? The key attribute here is that creationism isn’t falsifiable. There is no experiment that can be performed, ever, that would falsify creationism. Evolution, on the other hand, has made hundreds and hundreds of predictions that have all been tested and verified. Those with repeatable results that didn’t fit the current theory were used to change the current theory. This is impossible with creationism, hence creationism is not science.

I’ve gotten sidetracked, but thought it was important to at least get any readers who don’t know about the creationism debate the rough brief, which can easily be verified. The point of this post is Sarah Palin’s belief in creationism, not creationism.

It’s quite clear by Palin’s statements that she doesn’t understand the process of evolution. She says that she, “didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea” or from “monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.” Well Sarah, neither do people who believe in evolution. The large changes are actually the result of millions of years of small incremental changes. This points out the fundamental problem, evolution literacy, and science literacy in general, is too poor in this country.

We need a public education system that does a better job of teaching science, or even more so of teaching critical thinking. A better system of expounding the value of reason and skepticism. That imbues our children with pride in the idea that their minds can be changed with scientific evidence. This is important because the more accurately we base our decisions on reality the more likely those decisions will be fruitful. This is as true at an individual level as it is at a public policy level.

This post is very rant-like, but I get going on these things.

Electoral Bias

Posted in Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2009 by Josh Wittner

Over at The Monkey Cage Andrew Gellman discusses a very interesting paper which analyzed precinct voting data in reference to methods of electoral districting. The basic idea is that due mainly to the tendency for Democrats to prefer urban living and Republicans to prefer suburban or rural living, any districting which is based on creating compact, contiguous districts creates a bias in the Republican’s favor. This isn’t the same thing as gerrymandering because the districting is based on arbitrary rules and any bias isn’t intentional, but it does raise important questions about how states should divide their acreage for electoral purposes.

Shit like this makes me wanna be a political scientist.

America’s Decline

Posted in Economics, Politics, Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2009 by Josh Wittner

In this Newsweek article, Fareed Zakaria explores the status of America as the world’s premier innovator. He takes to task the idea that somehow our culture is the predominant reason that we’ve held the status we’ve held. I’ve always felt that it was more likely that the state of the world at large, our geographical separation from Europe (especially during WWII), and our once dominant educational system had larger impacts than simply our culture and I think that Zakaria agrees here.

The first key idea here for me is that the US government used to spend significantly more money on basic research and development (as a percentage of GDP). In fact, Zakaria states that “the government’s share of overall R&D spending remains near its all-time low.”

The second key idea is about education in the US. Zakaria uses the example of California which “builds prisons, but not college campuses” anymore. Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me talk about how important I think education is and I would definitely stand for education reform and increased financing.

The overall growth in innovation from countries like China and India are on the grand scale wonderful things that we should not try and inhibit. Instead we should should try and compete in progress.

Test Your Science Knowledge

Posted in Science with tags , , on September 24, 2009 by Josh Wittner

The PEW company recently canvased 1,005 adults with science questions to test the average American adults understanding of the current science knowledge. You can take this test of just 12 questions and see how you compare to the population as a whole (as projected from the canvassed group) and against the internal demographics.

One interesting thing about the demographics that I noticed was how overall dominant the 30-49 age group was, you can check all that out after you take the test.

My score: