Weekend reading recommendations, part two

More weekend reading recommendations!  All worth reading in full; excerpts appear below.

  1. Archbishop of Canterbury: Society is coming round to my views on sharia“, Daily Telegraph, 15 February 2009 — “The Archbishop of Canterbury has defended his controversial comments about the introduction of Islamic law to Britain and claimed that public opinion is now behind him.”
  2. Check the Numbers: The Case for Due Diligence in Policy Formation“, Bruce McCullough and Ross McKitrick”, Fraser Institute, February 2009 (44 pages)
  3. United States and Global Data Integrity Issues“, Joseph D’Aleo, Science and Public Policy Institute, 29 January 2009 (28 pages)
  4. Is Food the New Sex?“, Mary Eberstadt, Policy Review, Feb/Mch 2009 — “A curious reversal in moralizing”

This week’s climate science news:

Another instance of “outsiders” discovering substantial climate science data errors.  A few weeks ago it was data corruption in the records of some Antarctica automated weather stations (AWS), described here.  This week it is the National Snow and Ice Data Center’s (NSIDC) daily record of arctic sea ice. Several websites were involved; this shows the relevant posts at Anthony Watts’ site Watts Up With That. 

  1. NSIDC makes a big sea ice extent jump – but why?, 16 February — An oddity is found in this week’s data.
  2. Errors in publicly presented data – Worth blogging about?, 16 February — People question if the data error was significant.
  3. NSIDC: satellite sea ice sensor has “catastrophic failure” – data faulty for the last 45 or more days, 18 February — They acknowledge the serious error, extending back into January’s data.
  4. Satellite sensor errors cause data outage, NSIDC, 18 February — Here is the NSIDC’s post about the bad data and its cause.
  5. Arctic Sea Ice Underestimated for Weeks Due to Faulty Sensor“, Bloomberg, 20 February 2009 — The media picks up the story.


(1)  Archbishop of Canterbury: Society is coming round to my views on sharia“, Daily Telegraph, 15 February 2009 — Excerpt:

On the anniversary of the interview in which Dr Rowan Williams said it “seems inevitable” that some parts of sharia would be enshrined in this country’s legal code, he claimed “a number of fairly senior people” now take the same view.

He added that there is a “drift of understanding” towards what he was saying, and that the public sees the difference between letting Muslim courts decide divorces and wills, and allowing them to rule on criminal cases and impose harsh punishments.

However critics insist that family disputes must be dealt with by civil law rather than according to religious principles, and claim the Archbishop’s comments have only helped the case of extremists while making Muslim women worse off, because they do not have equal rights under Islamic law.

… But in July he was supported by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, who was then the Lord Chief Justice, while it later emerged that five sharia courts are already operating mediation systems under the Arbitration Act, and that the Government allows Islamic tribunals to settle the custody and financial affairs of divorcing couples and send their judgements to civil courts for approval.

When asked at a recent conference of Anglican leaders in Egypt whether he feels he has been vindicated, Dr Williams replied: “It’s been quite interesting to see how a number of fairly senior people have observed that certain kinds of limited aspects of Muslim law are imaginable within a British legal framework, without upsetting the apple cart of undermining human rights.

“People are maybe beginning to distinguish the general question of Muslim law, and the extremes of appalling practice which disfigure it in so many parts of the world or the extremes of trying to push Sharia law upon an entire society. So I think there is a drift of understanding of what I was trying to say, perhaps I like to think so.”

But Douglas Murray, the director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, said: “He has started a process which is deeply dangerous, damaging to Britain and to Muslim women in Britain.

“It was a wicked move because it undermines the progressives and gives succour to the extremists. How does the Archbishop of Canterbury know, sitting in Lambeth Palace, that a woman in Bolton has volunteered to give up half her inheritance to her brother?”

(2)  Check the Numbers: The Case for Due Diligence in Policy Formation“, Bruce McCullough and Ross McKitrick”, Fraser Institute, February 2009 (44 pages) — Abstract:

Empirical research in academic journals is often cited as the basis for public policy decisions, in part because people think that the journals have checked the accuracy of the research. Yet such work is rarely subjected to independent checks for accuracy during the peer review process, and the data and computational methods are so seldom disclosed that post-publication verification is equally rare.

This study argues that researchers and journals have allowed habits of secrecy to persist that severely inhibit independent replication. Non-disclosure of essential research materials may have deleterious scientific consequences, but our concern herein is something different: the possible negative effects on public policy formation. When a piece of academic research takes on a public role, such as becoming the basis for public policy decisions, practices that obstruct independent replication, such as refusal to disclose data, or the concealment of details about computational methods, prevent the proper functioning of the scientific process and can lead to poor public decision making.

This study shows that such practices are surprisingly common, and that researchers, users of research, and the public need to consider ways to address the situation. We offer suggestions that journals, funding agencies, and policy makers can implement to improve the transparency of the publication process and enhance the replicability of the research that is published.

This is entertaining reading, usual for an scholarly work of this kind.  They tell the histories of some great cases of shoddy or outright fraudulent research fraud affecting major public policy issues.

  1. The Harvard Six Cities study, New England Journal of Medicine, 1993 — Air pollution.
  2. Mortgage Lending in Boston: Interpreting HMDA Data, Federal Researve Bank of Boston, 1992 — Racial discrimination in lending.
  3. “Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000”, Mokdad, A.H., J.F. Marks, D.F. Stroup, and J.L. Gerberding, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2004
  4. “Post-wildfire logging hinders regeneration and increases fire risk”. Donato, Fontaine, Campbell, Robinson, Kauffman, and Law. Science Express, 2006 — Need to restrict logging. 
  5. “Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture”, Michael A. Bellesiles (2000) — Gun control.
  6. “An Assessment of the Impact of Climate Change on the Nature and Frequency of Exceptional Climatic Events”, Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), July 2008 — Droughts and climate cycles.

(3)  United States and Global Data Integrity Issues“, Joseph D’Aleo, Science and Public Policy Institute, 29 January 2009 (28 pages) — Abstract:

Issues with the United States and especially the global data bases make them inadequate to use for trend analysis and thus any important policy decisions based on climate change. These issues include

  • inadequate adjustments for urban data,
  • bad instrument siting,
  • use of instruments with proven biases that are not adjusted for,
  • major global station dropout,
  • an increase in missing monthly data and
  • questionable adjustment practices.

Excerpt about the problem of global station dropout:

Globally a major issue is station dropout. Over 2/3rds of the world’s stations, many of them rural areas in the former Soviet Union, stopped reporting around 1990. Dr. Kenji Matsuura and Dr. Cort J. Willmott at the University of Delaware has prepared this animation. See the lights go out in 1990. The animation shows that Siberia suffered the biggest station falloff.

… In the chart above you see how this drop off of global sites coincides with a sudden rise in mean of all remaining stations. The analysis below of station count is broken down by rural, suburban and urban categories. It clearly shows a substantial drop in the number of rural stations. Average temperatures jumped when these other stations dropped out in all three categories but most notably in the rural data, suggesting that it was mainly colder, smaller, higher latitude stations that were no longer in the record …

… In addition to station dropout, there has been a tenfold increase in missing months of data in places like the former Soviet Union.

… Last summer, volunteers completed surveys of the United States Historic Climate Network (USHCN) temperature stations in Maine for Anthony Watts’ surface station evaluation project. The survey determined that every one of the stations in Maine was subject to microclimate or urbanization biases. One station especially surprised the surveyors, Ripogenus Dam:  despite being oficially closed in 1995, USHCN data for this station is publicly available until 2006!

(4)  Is Food the New Sex?“, Mary Eberstadt, Policy Review, Feb/Mch 2009 — “A curious reversal in moralizing.”  Headings are added. Excerpt:

To begin to see just how recent and dramatic this change is, let us imagine some broad features of the world seen through two different sets of eyes: a hypothetical 30-year-old housewife from 1958 named Betty, and her hypothetical granddaughter Jennifer, of the same age, today.

The morality of eating

… Most important of all, however, is the difference in moral attitude separating Betty and Jennifer on the matter of food. Jennifer feels that there is a right and wrong about these options that transcends her exercise of choice as a consumer. She does not exactly condemn those who believe otherwise, but she doesn’t understand why they do, either. And she certainly thinks the world would be a better place if more people evaluated their food choices as she does. She even proselytizes on occasion when she can.

In short, with regard to food, Jennifer falls within Immanuel Kant’s definition of the Categorical Imperative: She acts according to a set of maxims that she wills at the same time to be universal law.

The morality of sex

… Most important of all, Betty feels that sex, unlike food, is not de gustibus. She believes to the contrary that there is a right and wrong about these choices that transcends any individual act. She further believes that the world would be a better place, and individual people better off, if others believed as she does. She even proselytizes such on occasion when given the chance.

In short, as Jennifer does with food, Betty in the matter of sex fulfills the requirements for Kant’s Categorical Imperative.


… Thus far, what the imaginary examples of Betty and Jennifer have established is this: Their personal moral relationships toward food and toward sex are just about perfectly reversed. Betty does care about nutrition and food, but it doesn’t occur to her to extend her opinions to a moral judgment — i.e., to believe that other people ought to do as she does in the matter of food, and that they are wrong if they don’t. In fact, she thinks such an extension would be wrong in a different way; it would be impolite, needlessly judgmental, simply not done. Jennifer, similarly, does care to some limited degree about what other people do about sex; but it seldom occurs to her to extend her opinions to a moral judgment. In fact, she thinks such an extension would be wrong in a different way — because it would be impolite, needlessly judgmental, simply not done.

On the other hand, Jennifer is genuinely certain that her opinions about food are not only nutritionally correct, but also, in some deep, meaningful sense, morally correct — i.e., she feels that others ought to do something like what she does. And Betty, on the other hand, feels exactly the same way about what she calls sexual morality.

As noted, this desire to extend their personal opinions in two different areas to an “ought” that they think should be somehow binding — binding, that is, to the idea that others should do the same — is the definition of the Kantian imperative. Once again, note: Betty’s Kantian imperative concerns sex not food, and Jennifer’s concerns food not sex. In just over 50 years, in other words — not for everyone, of course, but for a great many people, and for an especially large portion of sophisticated people — the moral poles of sex and food have been reversed. Betty thinks food is a matter of taste, whereas sex is governed by universal moral law of some kind; and Jennifer thinks exactly the reverse.

What has happened here?

Food Religions

… Alongside macrobiotics, the past decades have also seen tremendous growth in vegetarianism and its related offshoots, another food system that typically makes moral as well as health claims. As a movement, and depending on which part of the world one looks at, vegetarianism predates macrobiotics.1Vegetarian histories claim for themselves the Brahmins, Buddhists, Jainists, and Zoroastrians, as well as certain Jewish and Christian practitioners. In the modern West, Percy Bysshe Shelley was a prominent activist in the early nineteenth century; and the first Vegetarian Society was founded in England in 1847.

Around the same time in the United States, a Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham popularized vegetarianism in tandem with a campaign against excess of all kinds (ironically, under the circumstances, this health titan is remembered primarily for the Graham cracker). Various other American religious groups have also gone in for vegetarianism, including the Seventh Day Adventists, studies on whom make up some of the most compelling data about the possible health benefits of a diet devoid of animal flesh. Uniting numerous discrete movements under one umbrella is the International Vegetarian Union, which started just a hundred years ago, in 1908.

Despite this long history, though, it is clear that vegetarianism apart from its role in religious movements did not really take off as a mass movement until relatively recently. Even so, its contemporary success has been remarkable. Pushed perhaps by the synergistic public interest in macrobiotics and nutritional health, and nudged also by occasional rallying books including Peter Singer’s Animal Rights and Matthew Scully’s Dominion, vegetarianism today is one of the most successful secular moral movements in the West; whereas macrobiotics for its part, though less successful as a mass movement by name, has witnessed the vindication of some of its core ideas and stands as a kind of synergistic brother in arms

… Throughout history, practically no one devoted this much time to matters of food as ideas (as opposed to, say, time spent gathering the stuff). Still less does it appear to have occurred to people that dietary schools could be untethered from a larger metaphysical and moral worldview. Observant Jews and Muslims, among others, have had strict dietary laws from their faiths’ inception; but that is just it — their laws told believers what to do with food when they got it, rather than inviting them to dwell on food as a thing in itself. Like the Adventists, who speak of their vegetarianism as being “harmony with the Creator,” or like the Catholics with their itinerant Lenten and other obligations, these previous dietary laws were clearly designed to enhance religion — not replace it.

Do today’s influential dietary ways of life in effect replace religion?

… Perhaps the most revealing example of the infusion of morality into food codes can be found in the current European passion for what the French call terroir — an idea that originally referred to the specific qualities conferred by geography on certain food products (notably wine) and that has now assumed a life of its own as a moral guide to buying and consuming locally. That there is no such widespread, concomitant attempt to impose a new morality on sexual pursuits in Western Europe seems something of an understatement. But as a measure of the reach of terroir as a moral code, consider only a sermon from Durham Cathedral in 2007. In it, the dean explained Lent as an event that “says to us, cultivate a good terroir, a spiritual ecology that will re-focus our passion for God, our praying, our pursuit of justice in the world, our care for our fellow human beings.”

There stands an emblematic example of the reversal between food and sex in our time: in which the once-universal moral code of European Christianity is being explicated for the masses by reference to the now apparently more-universal European moral code of consumption à la terroir.

Moreover, this reversal between sex and food appears firmer the more passionately one clings to either pole. Thus, for instance, though much has lately been made of the “greening” of the evangelicals, no vegetarian Christian group is as nationally known as, say, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or any number of other vegetarian/vegan organizations, most of which appear to be secular or anti-religious and none of which, so far as my research shows, extend their universalizable moral ambitions to the realm of sexuality. When Skinny Bitch— a hip guide to veganism that recently topped the bestseller lists for months — exhorts its readers to a life that is “clean, pure, healthy,” for example, it is emphatically not including sex in this moral vocabulary, and makes a point of saying so.

What about sex?

If it is true that food is the new sex, however, where does that leave sex? This brings us to the paradox already hinted at. As the consumption of food not only literally but also figuratively has become progressively more discriminate and thoughtful, at least in theory (if rather obviously not always in practice), the consumption of sex in various forms appears to have become the opposite for a great many people: i.e., progressively more indiscriminate and unthinking.

Back to food: eat better, live longer

At this point, the impatient reader will interject that something else — something understandable and anodyne — is driving the increasing attention to food in our day: namely, the fact that we have learned much more than humans used to know about the importance of a proper diet to health and longevity. And this is surely a point borne out by the facts, too. One attraction of macrobiotics, for example, is its promise to reduce the risks of cancer. The fall in cholesterol that attends a true vegan or vegetarian diet is another example. Manifestly, one reason that people today are so much more discriminating about food is that decades of recent research have taught us that diet has more potent effects than Betty and her friends understood, and can be bad for you or good for you in ways not enumerated before.

All that is true, but then the question is this: Why aren’t more people doing the same with sex?

For here we come to the most fascinating turn of all. One cannot answer the question by arguing that there is no such empirical news about indiscriminately pursued sex and how itcan be good or bad for you; to the contrary, there is, and lots of it. After all, several decades of empirical research — which also did not exist before — have demonstrated that the sexual revolution, too, has had consequences, and that many of them have redounded to the detriment of a sexually liberationist ethic.

Married, monogamous people are more likely to be happy. They live longer. These effects are particularly evident for men. Divorced men in particular and conversely face health risks — including heightened drug use and alcoholism — that married men do not. Married men also work more and save more, and married households not surprisingly trump other households in income. Divorce, by contrast, is often a financial catastrophe for a family, particularly the women and children in it. So is illegitimacy typically a financial disaster.

By any number of measures, moreover, nontraditional sexual morality — and the fallout from it — is detrimental to the well-being of one specifically vulnerable subset: children. Children from broken homes are at risk for all kinds of behavioral, psychological, educational, and other problems that children from intact homes are not. Children from fatherless homes are far more likely to end up in prison than are those who grew up with both biological parents. Girls growing up without a biological father are far more likely to suffer physical or sexual abuse. Girls and boys, numerous sources also show, are adversely affected by family breakup into adulthood, and have higher risks than children from intact homes of repeating the pattern of breakup themselves.


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8 thoughts on “Weekend reading recommendations, part two”

  1. Ah, but is the spate of stories about defects in the Arctic ice data nothing but information ops?
    Fabius Maxmius replies: On what basis do you say this? The data was clearly wrong. The cause is routine sensor failure. The operators rapidly acknowledged the problem, and are working to correct it?

    When your plumbing clogs, do you suspect covert ops? {That’s an over-the-top reply, but too good to resist}

    1. Fabs, I was pulling your leg.
      Fabius Maximus replies: There is nothing in the historical record that shows the real Fabius Maximus had a sense of humor. I regret to say that there is nothing on this site showing that I have one either (not a functioning one, at least).

  2. There has always been an adversarial relationship between the civil and religious authority. In western societies, science has replaced religion so it is natural for civil authority to attempt to coopt science, just as it always has attempted with religion. “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” (science? fact-checker? whistle-blower? etc?)

    When policymakers begin to decide what is “good science” and what is not, we all suffer. You are correct that climate science has been largely coopted via funding sources that are under the control of policymakers and those who are sympathetic.

    As soon as banks are nationalized, we can see the same type of political control over the flow of banking funds. It all works out, for those in control, if they can keep control. Mussolini couldn’t.

  3. Re Sharia and the Arch Bish: I read that Britain worked on a similar system until the last few hundred years. Police and prisons, not needed; ponds, gibbets, stocks and rods cheaper and reduce reoffending. Blood money not a bad idea. I wish the kids who stole my car had had to buy me another one.

    Would be interesting to know if the Muslim lady who had to give half her portion to her brother , also had to give 40% of over £275,000, to the government to squander; and whether her brother had an obligation to support her and her family if she was widowed or divorced. Again, in Britain, if property was ‘entailed’ it went in entirety to the nearest male, but he had obligation support the rest of family if in need. There were differences from Sharia in Olde Britte lawe re fornication and drunkenness, but we had to have something to do when it was raining.
    Fabius Maximus replies: It’s always interesting to see nostalgia for a delusional version of the “good old days.” Perhaps the author will convert and emmigrate to Saudi Arabia, and in a few years tell us how she enjoys it. Nobody will steal here car, since she will not be able to drive.

    Her enthusiasm for the “Bloody Code” of 18th century is equally bizarre. See the UK National Archvies and Wikipedia for details.

    1. Hey ,I am not enthusiastic to be thrown in a duck pond to see if I drown and thereby be proven innocent . However , the imposition of Christian Law ( the 10 commandments ) might not be a bad idea in UK . I dont recall Jesus saying I had to fill in 5 separate forms if I needed to send a clients dead cat to a pet crematorium .
      Prisons of course are a great success , cf Iraq, Afgh , Gitmo ; and I think the US still has the death penalty in some states ?

  4. Look on the bright side. If the Archbishop’s views prevail we should be receiving about 20 million new immigrants. Think of America as the Ark. But I expect Europeans, including the British to rediscover their roots soon and begin practicing ethnic cleansing. Will President Obama order bombing from 30,000 feet?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Your guess about mass immigration from Europe might prove accurate, as your guess about “ethnic cleansing” seems unlikely. A 5% minority is too large to easily dislodge, esp when most are citizens. Mustering the will to make the necessary fundamental legal changes — redefining their definition of citizenship will be difficult. Mustering the will to use the force required, and endure the resulting damage, will be even more difficult. After all, these people have nowhere to go — so probably will not except their bus tickets quietly.

    Spengler (writing at Asia Times) says that the rapidly aging “natives” of Europe just wish to fade without any fuss or bother. If so, they will get their wish.

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