Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Greg Mankiw's advice to new junior faculty at research universities:
Your focus should be on getting papers published in refereed journals. Everything else is secondary...

Avoid activities that will distract you from research. Whatever you do, do not start a blog. That will only establish your lack of seriousness as a scholar.

Remember that you got into academics in part for the intellectual freedom it allows. So pursue your passions. Do not be too strategic. Be wary of advice from old fogies like me.

When it comes to research and distractions therefrom, I (still a grad student) find that the negative method of focusing on research---not doing fun activity X---doesn't work very well. I just switch to fun activity Y. Producing new mathematics requires a positive desire on my part to do so. Such desire is most effective when it is most specific, e.g., "I just know that I generalize that criterion I called `Phi is empty' to prove that under Martin's Axiom there's an ultrafilter on omega that is Tukey equivalent to..." And now I must end this blog post, for I'm really curious about applying Jensen's Diamond Principle to...

Monday, February 26, 2007

Humans are irrational in so many interesting ways. Tyler Cowen points out a study showing that, statistically, a person tends to rate more highly those historical figures he believes share his birthday. I'm irrational in another way. Once I discovered Nixon shares my birthday, I loathed him even more.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Tyler Cowen writes that
Blogging makes us more oriented toward an intellectual bottom line, more interested in the directly empirical, more tolerant of human differences, more analytical in the course of daily life, more interested in people who are interesting, and less patient with Continental philosophy.
I'd agree on all counts, based on my experience, except I was never very patient with Continental philosophy. I wonder how much of the effect comes just from reading lots of blogs.

Monday, February 05, 2007

All about AACS encryption and decryption (HT: Bruce Schneier)

A very interesting New Yorker article by George Packer on "global counterinsurgency."

Saudi Arabia may ban the letter 'X'.

For Star Trek nerds only...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Andrew Samwick would like to see tax preferences for health insurance altogether nixed as the "first reform" of health care policy. I doubt we'll get that far. Moreover, I can only briefly entertain the idea that income tax deductions for health insurance might eventually be inflated away if Bush gets his 15K cap passed. More likely, such a health insurance deduction will like the child tax credit in that politicians will periodically see campaigning to increasing it as low hanging political fruit. (It's not too cynical to argue that many tax deductions are not automatically indexed to inflation because politicians want to save up such fruit for the future.)

Longing for a simpler tax code, I sometimes ponder what will happen if the Alternative Minimum Tax is not reformed and allowed to become the most common way Americans pay federal income tax. It would be particularly pleasing to see the de facto end of the tax deductions for state and local taxes---that's just big government subsidizing more big government. However, I suspect that if the AMT becomes the norm, then politicians will lunge at the opportunities to crusade for AMT deductions for all the usual suspects. Of course, the question is how fast these deductions would accrete. Resetting them to zero might buy many years of relatively less distorting income taxation.

Science Sunday continues: Saturn is hot.
A pair of science links I especially liked:

Triple-helix gene regulation.

Using a supercomputer to mathematically derive the empirical nucleon-nucleon interaction potential from theoretical quantum chromodynamics.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ronald Bailey has a nice little summary of the IPCC's latest Summary with some background info. The bottom line: their best guess is that 2100 will be 3 degrees (Celsius) warmer with sea levels 11 inches higher.
The Summary says the temperature is "likely to be in the range 2 to 4.5 degrees Celsius (3.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit) with a best estimate of about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). The Summary adds, "Values substantially higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded, but agreement of models with observations is not as good for those values." Basically, IPCC global temperature projections are back to where they were in 1990 in the FAR.

However, the IPCC's new Summary continues the trend of lowering sea level increases that is found in its previous scientific assessments. By 2100 sea level is expected to rise between 28 to 43 centimeters (11 to 16 inches). The report notes that sea level rose about 7 inches during the 20th century.

The new estimate for sea level rise has proved to be one of the more controversial aspects of the IPCC Summary. For example, Stefan Rahmstorf from the University of Potsdam in Germany, is a co-author of a brief report in Science this week that suggests the previous IPCC projections "may in some respects even have underestimated the change, in particular for sea level." He thinks sea level could rise as much as 55 inches over the next century.

There is much argument to be had about proposed policy responses that try to reduce CO2 emissions and the like, but I think we can much more easily agree that there is a fair chance we will not achieve the global cooperation necessary to noticably slow global warming. With that in mind, we should, at the very least, be making contigency plans and hedging our financial bets so as to be ready for a warmer world. For example, if we think parts of Bangledesh will be flooded (more than usual), then let's think about how we might help the Bangledeshis build things like dikes. By themselves, national policies like a carbon tax, if they prove to be too little, too late, will leave our descendents saying, "Well, they meant well..."