Saturday, February 18, 2012

Econ Talk and the Environment

I’ve never been too swayed by movements to save “the environment.”  After all, the only reason we enjoy the quality of life that we do is that our species has been able to keep nature in check, at least for the most part, most of the time.  But whether it’s a tsunami, a volcanic eruption, a deadly mutating virus, a near-miss asteroid, a dangerous solar flare, a flesh eating bacteria, an earthquake, a deadly spider, the ice age that’s right around the corner, or even our own highly imperfect evolution, nature and “the environment” are aligned against us and could kill us at any time in any number of terrifying ways.  True, I live in Wisconsin where I happen to be shielded from many, but not all, of these completely natural but deadly creatures and phenomenon.  Also true, I’ve yet to fall victim to my aging and disease-prone genes (although I likely have lived more years than I have left in front of me).  But my point is that “the environment” strikes me as more of an adversary than a thing worthy of my charity or concern. 

"Hot for Teacher" and Free Speech

In a recent post I wrote about a college student who was kicked out of school for engaging in "unlawful individual activity."  His crime?  In a free-writing exercise in a creative writing class at a public university, he wrote that his teacher was attractive.  A few days after The Dog's post, ABC News picked up the story, and you can now see a video of the student explaining his side of things.  Even the Van Halen News Desk is paying attention.  (Scroll down the VH News Desk link and you can enjoy Hot for Teacher—quite possibly the greatest rock video ever made.)  You can also find the student's actual journal entries, as well as a letter written by the hot teacher, all on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education website.  I love it when education and Van Halen come together.  (Pictured left: Eddie Van Halen's guitar.)   

Spin Doctors

Dealing with prosecutors on a daily basis, I often get to hear some pretty outlandish spin on both facts and law.  But even the most motivated prosecutor would get dizzy from the spin put on these two former Duke University employees.

First, there’s the case of a former Duke medical research doctor.  As 60 Minutes just reported in Deception at Duke, the doctor was involved in what might turn out to be one of the “biggest medical research frauds ever.”  In a nutshell, the doctor claimed to have decoded the genetic makeup of cancer tumors which allowed him to match a person’s cancer to the best treatment with 80 percent accuracy.  His work was hailed as groundbreaking, but when two Houston doctors analyzed the results, they found something odd: the Duke doctor’s data was riddled with what were thought to be errors.  Duke ultimately concluded (many years later) that far from being filled with errors, the data was being manipulated to reach the desired outcome.  The result, unfortunately, was that patients in the Duke clinical trials might have been receiving “not the best drug for their tumor, but the worst.”  You can imagine what happened to them.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"I want to believe."

While wanting to believe may be necessary for the religious and Fox Mulder, I think society could benefit from a healthy attitude shift toward the don’t-rush-to-judgment end of the spectrum.  An objective, skeptical, cautious, and even indifferent approach to life has its rewards.  Unfortunately, however, the attitude on some college campuses these days seems to be leaning—or, more accurately, falling over—in the opposite direction. 

We all know what happened in the Duke Lacrosse case a few years ago.  I’m not referring to the false allegation itself; that sort of thing happens all the time.  Even a poorly constructed web search will reveal hundreds of proven false allegation cases, including those at Duke University, in small town Port Washington, WI, and at Northeast High School in Macon, GA.  And of all the false allegations that are levied, only a fraction of those can be conclusively proven false, and only a fraction of that fraction are ever reported by the media.  In reality, then, there is good reason (and evidence) to believe that a very large percentage of all accusations are, in fact, false.  But again, that’s not my point.