Archives: 03/2014

How Has Your State’s Academic Performance and K-12 Spending Changed over the Past 40 Years? Find out Here.

Last summer, I stumbled across a clever 1993 paper by education statisticians Mark Dynarski and Philip Gleason that proved it was possible to adjust average state SAT scores for variations in the test participation rate and demographic factors, making them comparable to one another. Barely able to contain my excitement (hey, don’t judge), I set about extending their method so that it could discern trends in state SAT scores over time, and improving the validity of its estimates by using more data, fewer assumptions, and more exhaustive methods. Last week, I released the technical paper presenting those extensions. Yesterday, I released a paper that uses them to chart academic achievement and spending trends, for every state, back to 1972. How did your state do? Find out here.

To pique your interest, here’s the chart for Masschusetts:

Massachusetts education and spending trends

AAAS’s Guide to Climate Alarmism

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

Back in the Bush II Administration, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) nakedly tried to nudge the political process surrounding the passage of the environmentally-horrific ethanol fuel mandate.  It hung a large banner from the side of its Washington headquarters, picturing a corn stalk morphing into a gas pump, all surrounded by a beautiful, pristine, blue ocean.  They got their way, and we got the bill, along with a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

So it’s not surprising that AAAS is on the Washington Insider side of global warming, releasing  a report today that is the perfect 1-2-3 step-by-step how-to guide to climate change alarm.

This is how it is laid out in the counterfactually-titled AAAS report  “What We Know”:

Step 1: State that virtually all scientists agree that humans are changing the climate,

Step 2: Highlight that climate change has the potential to bring low risk but high impact outcomes, and

Step 3: Proclaim that by acting now, we can do something to avert potential catastrophe.

To make this most effective, appeal to authority, or in this case, make the case that you are the authority. From the AAAS:

We’re the largest general scientific society in the world, and therefore we believe we have an obligation to inform the public and policymakers about what science is showing about any issue in modern life, and climate is a particularly pressing one,” said Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS. “As the voice of the scientific community, we need to share what we know and bring policymakers to the table to discuss how to deal with the issue.

But despite promising to inform us as to “what the science is showing,” the AAAS report largely sidesteps the best and latest science that points to a much lowered risk of extreme climate change, choosing instead to inflate and then highlight what meager evidence exists for potential catastrophic outcomes—evidence that in many cases has been scientifically challenged (for example here and here).

What Did the War In Libya Accomplish?

Three years ago tomorrow, U.S. and allied states began bombing Libya’s military in support of rebels. Today, Libya is back in the news. An eastern militia’s effort to export oil prompted U.S. Navy Seals to seize an oil tanker on behalf of Libya’s fledging government, which just fired its Prime Minister over the matter. Meanwhile, the political chaos that caused Ambassador Chris Stevens’ murder in Bhenghazi in 2012 continues. The New York Times recently reported that “Political Killings Still Plaguing Post-Qaddafi Libya.”

So Cato’s forum tomorrow on whether the intervention in Libya succeeded is well-timed. We will answer the question using the criteria set out by intervention’s advocates. President Obama, and the leaders of other intervening states, offered three major goals. First, it would avert a humanitarian disaster: the mass murder of civilians in Bhenghazi, which the Libyan state forces were poised to capture. Second, intervention would help Libya become a democracy. Third, defending Libya’s rebels would deter other authoritarian rulers in the region from cracking down on uprisings in their own countries. 

As Gene Healy notes today in the Washington Examiner, it’s doubtful that we achieved any of those goals. The one thing that the war unequivocally accomplished, the overthrow of Muammar el-Qaddafi, was never an explicit goal of the outsiders. That’s because forming a military alliance against Qaddafi required the pretension, manifest in the U.N. Security Council Resolution authorizing war, that intervention could defend civilians without taking sides.

Christopher Chivvis, who served in the Pentagon at the war’s start, will likely make the argument from his recent book: the action was a moderate success, given its tiny cost. Alan Kuperman, pioneer of the moral hazard critique of humanitarian intervention, will argue that, rather than saving civilians, the intervention backfired, increasing the humanitarian toll and exacerbating the region’s instability.

I’ll say that the war probably did nothing to discourage crackdowns in other nations and might have encouraged them, and the current circumstance in Libya argues against aiding the overthrow of the Mideast’s rulers, even despotic ones. I’ll also criticize Congressional Republicans for obsessing over Bhenghazi without heeding, let alone opposing, the broader U.S. project in Libya. Register here. The event will also stream live on Cato.org.

What the Useful Polling Shows about Common Core

Whether the Common Core is good policy, or was federally driven, is not dictated by polling results. But the Core’s political fate is tied to public opinion, which is probably why pro-Core pollsters are spinning like mad, and supporters like Bill Gates are undertaking a new PR blitz.

Achieve, Inc., a creator of the Core along with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, has released Common Core survey results for several years running. What these polls have primarily been notable for finding is (1) very few people know much about the Common Core, and (2) if you feed respondents a glowing description of the Core they – surprise! – like it. At the end of last week, Achieve released their latest such survey.

What did they find? According to the main point of their summary, “solid majorities of voters support common standards, common assessments, and allowing teacher (sic) and students time to adjust to these new expectations.” But the really important finding was this: Of the people who reported knowing about the Common Core – those not relying on the loaded description of the Core as all wonderfully state-led and egalitarian – 40 percent reported having unfavorable opinions of the Core, versus 37 percent favorable.

Alas, Achieve blamed this, essentially, on people being misinformed by vocal Core opponents:

It is likely this mixed number is attributable to CCSS opponents who in the past year have made their opposition known through all media outlets, leaving a more negative “impression” among voters.

Opposition couldn’t be based on evidence and logic. No! Common Core is too pure and beloved. It must be coming form a lot of light-thinking, highly impressionable people. In contrast, respondents reporting that they agree with a loaded, glowing description they were just read? That’s real support!

Distaste for the Core among people who report being knowledgeable about it is mirrored in recent polling in New York, the state, along with Kentucky, that is furthest along implementing the Core. After massive “proficiency” decreases under its first round of Core testing, New York is also the state that is most convulsed. A February Siena College poll found Empire Staters very closely split on the Core.

That support cracks after people learn about the Core is almost certainly why defenders like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Bill Gates are undertaking a massive PR campaign to push the Core. Unfortunately, based on an ABC News interview with Gates this weekend, and longstanding pro-Core practice, the main messages are likely going to be that the Feds have nothing meaningful to do with the Core; high standards will revolutionize education; and anyone who tells you otherwise is willfully misleading you.

But here’s the thing: Core supporters can spin and spread gloss wherever they want, the more the public experiences the Core, the less they seem to like it. And then, of course, there is all the evidence and logic showing what a policy failure the Core is likely to be. You know, showing that the Feds have driven and must drive the Core; high standards – if the Core even is thatwill not fix education; and many Core opponents know exactly what they’re talking about.

Private Funding of Science?

According to textbook economics, government funding is crucial to scientific progress and technological innovation.  The reasoning is that pure science (e.g., the structure of DNA) underlies most applied science (e.g., genetic testing).  Pure science, however, is easily copied once discovered, so it cannot earn significant profits. Private actors therefore underinvest in pure science, and applied science suffers. In economics lingo, pure science is a public good because knowledge is non-excludable.

This perspective is reasonable but hardly decisive. Government funding suffers bureaucratic inefficiences and risks politicization of the nation’s research agenda (e.g., an excessive focus on defense research). And even if some role for government makes sense, the right amount is hard to gauge; no evidence shows that current amounts are insufficient.

In addition, the textbook argument assumes that private actors will not fund basic research. Yet as this New York Times piece documents, private actors contribute mightily to scientific research:

Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, .. set up a brain science institute in Seattle, to which he donated $500 million, and Fred Kavli, a technology and real estate billionaire, … then established brain institutes at Yale, Columbia and the University of California. …

The new philanthropists represent the breadth of American business, people like Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor (and founder of the media company that bears his name), James Simons (hedge funds) and David H. Koch (oil and chemicals), among hundreds of wealthy donors. Especially prominent, though, are some of the boldest-face names of the tech world, among them Bill Gates (Microsoft), Eric E. Schmidt (Google) and Lawrence J. Ellison (Oracle). 

So far, Mr. Ellison, listed by Forbes magazine as the world’s fifth-richest man, has donated about half a billion dollars to science. …

The philanthropists’ projects are as diverse as the careers that built their fortunes. George P. Mitchell, considered the father of the drilling process for oil and gas known as fracking, has given about $360 million to fields like particle physics, sustainable development and astronomy — including $35 million for the Giant Magellan Telescope, now being built by a private consortium for installation atop a mountain in Chile. …

Eli Broad, who earned his money in housing and insurance, donated $700 million for a venture between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore the genetic basis of disease. Gordon Moore of Intel has spent $850 million on research in physics, biology, the environment and astronomy. The investor Ronald O. Perelman, among other donations, gave more than $30 million to study women’s cancers — money that led to Herceptin, a breakthrough drug for certain kinds of breast cancer. Nathan P. Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft, has spent heavily on uncovering fossil remains of Tyrannosaurus rex, and Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund, has lent his mega-yacht to hunts for the elusive giant squid. 

Whether a role remains for government funding is not clear; perhaps the projects funded by private investors will not address the breadth of important questions in basic science.

And government funding has undoubtedly supported huge amounts of valuable research; that is not in dispute, only whether the research would have occurred even without government.

The wealth of private funding nevertheless suggests that outrage over cuts to science budgets is misguided. The private sector will fill much, perhaps all, of the gap.

Just Call Us the “Not Smart Enough” Bunch

From a Baltimore Sun article on the regulatory fate of car-sharing services Uber and Lyft, bitterly attacked by their more highly regulated taxi competitors: 

At a recent work session on the issue, Kelley [Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County] rejected the contention from Lyft and Uber that it’s a matter of consumer choice about whether to use the application to book a ride and they won’t do it if the price is too high. 

“We regulate all sorts of things because the general public is not smart enough to know when they’re about to be fleeced,” Kelley said.

But what about members of the general public who are smart enough to know they’re about to be fleeced, but are unable to do anything about it because it’s lawmakers and market incumbents combining to make that happen?