I decided to return briefly from hibernation to do some analysis on this. My findings are posted in this presentation:
P.S. The PDF version is here.
I decided to return briefly from hibernation to do some analysis on this. My findings are posted in this presentation:
P.S. The PDF version is here.
A weekend ago, Matt Ridley wrote an engaging piece for the Wall Street Journal that was originally titled "The Scarcity Fallacy" - the title has since changed to "The World's Resources Aren't Running Out". The basic thesis of his essay is this:
Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again
In the body of his essay, Ridley says:
Ecologists call this "niche construction"—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.
Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.
I nowadays lean to the view that there are no limits because we can invent new ways of doing more with less.
I tend to generally agree with Ridley's premise that innovation of various kinds has allowed us to extend the use of resources or find alternate ways to meet our needs. I very much share this optimistic view of humanity and future possibilities.
That said, some of the claims in his essay made me wonder how well researched the essay is and how accurately it represents the facts or mainstream views on some of the areas of discussion. Since I write now and then on climate change, I figured I'd pick that as an example to discuss Ridley's essay - sure enough, a quick read of Ridley's claims makes it evident his discussion is amazingly superficial and creates many fallacies of its own in terms of how it represents the scientific/economic thinking on this subject. In fact, I would not be surprised if his discussion of topics other than climate change were likely as superficial and fallacy-ridden, because the last time he wrote on similar subjects in 2012, the claims were problematic to say the least.
Let's start with these two passages in his current essay (I've highlighted some portions in bold text):
This disagreement goes to the heart of many current political issues and explains much about why people disagree about environmental policy. In the climate debate, for example, pessimists see a limit to the atmosphere's capacity to cope with extra carbon dioxide without rapid warming. So a continuing increase in emissions if economic growth continues will eventually accelerate warming to dangerous rates. But optimists see economic growth leading to technological change that would result in the use of lower-carbon energy. That would allow warming to level off long before it does much harm.
It is striking, for example, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recent forecast that temperatures would rise by 3.7 to 4.8 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels by 2100 was based on several assumptions: little technological change, an end to the 50-year fall in population growth rates, a tripling (only) of per capita income and not much improvement in the energy efficiency of the economy. Basically, that would mean a world much like today's but with lots more people burning lots more coal and oil, leading to an increase in emissions. Most economists expect a five- or tenfold increase in income, huge changes in technology and an end to population growth by 2100: not so many more people needing much less carbon.
Dictionary.com defines "fallacy" as follows:
Part of an Entrepreneur Q&A Series [see past Q&As here: GLTYR]
Whisk (http://www.whisk.me) is a startup currently based in New York City that aims to change the way transportation providers offer, and customers use, car ride services. It has a few competitors such as Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and Hailo although their business models are different. Whisk was founded by three people - Michael Ibrahim (CEO), Ram Trichur (President), and Vivek Chandran (CTO). Ram happens to be a close relative - so I did a Q&A with him about what he and his team are trying to do with Whisk.
Yottapoint: What is Whisk?
Ram: We are an on-demand ride service. Customers can request a ride through their smart phone and control the entire ride experience through the Whisk App. We are also quickly becoming the go-to technology platform for the industry, transforming the way in which current car service operators run their business.
Yottapoint: Why did you pick this name? I noticed there are a number of other small companies with the same name [Whisk (NYC), Whisk (SF), SF Whisk] - do you think this might make it difficult for people to reach you or learn more about your services?
Ram: We had a healthy debate about that! A couple of things influenced our decision. In the context of moving people, the name intuitively conveys taking someone to their destination quickly. We were also able acquire a nice domain (http://whisk.me) which builds on that sentiment. We also felt that a discoverable brand is less important for a mobile only service ...once someone has the App on the phone, it becomes a habit, and a majority of new customer acquisition comes from existing customer referrals and press mentions (vs. Googling for something generic like "car service"). There was of course the downside that searching for Whisk on the app store will be a tough fight for relevance ....we are happy that after just a few months now we are the top result on the Apple app-store and the second result on Google-play store if you type in Whisk.
Yottapoint: How/why did you come up with the idea for Whisk?
Ram: The co-founders of Whisk are New Yorkers. Though we have a good public transportation system, getting a cab in NYC is difficult especially if the weather is bad, you have young kids or it is the notorious "shift change time" for taxis. Going in a taxi is also not a very pleasant experience always. You are cramped for room, some drivers are just rude, and if you have a problem - all you can do is call 311. My colleague and I at McKinsey discussed this in late 2012. We realized that there were other well-funded players in the market - but after much research, we concluded that the market was still nascent and there was a tremendous opportunity to partner with the industry to build something really big.
Yottapoint: Do you operate only in NYC right now? If so, any plans to expand to other cities?
Ram: NYC is 40% of the ground transportation market in the US. We are well on our way to establishing a solid base here. In the next several months we will be expanding to a few other metros.
Yottapoint: You seem to have several competitors – Uber being the big one, but also Lyft, Sidecar, Hailo. Can you help us understand the key differences between Whisk and these other services?
I have been trying to develop a deeper understanding on the topic of income and wealth inequality and wanted to bookmark for myself some pertinent research and posts.
Josh Barro [Business Insider]
Andrew Berg, Jonathan Ostry [IMF]
Matthew O'Brien [The Atlantic]
Miles Corak [University of Ottawa]
Kathleen Geier [Inequality Matters]
Colin Gordon [Dissent]
David Howell [The New School]
Roger Pielke Jr. recently published an article in Nate Silver's new 538 website titled Disasters Cost More Than Ever But Not Because of Climate Change. You should click the link and read his entire piece but, his thesis is essentially the following:
His article was roundly criticized by some well known climate scientists, as summarized by Emily Atkin at Think Progress (additional discussion in this post by Laurence Lewis at Daily Kos). The crux of the criticism as I see it:
Pielke responded to these critiques in an email to Think Progress (same link as above):
Part of an Entrepreneur Q&A Series [see other Q&As here: Whisk]
UPDATE on 3/9/14: Added some responses from Sudhakar to user questions in the comments section.
I was recently catching up with my good friend - the multi-talented Subra Sudhakar - a tech industry veteran, CEO of the startup School Cues and an accomplished Indian classical musician who has played with leading Indian musicians over the years. As it turned out, I discovered he had just co-founded another startup - called GLTYR. Having heard from him about it, I checked it out myself and was impressed because I think this product will be a catalyst for more advanced personalized video/audio/text communication in the coming years. Here is a Q&A I did with Sudhakar about his new product/company (with minor edits for grammar/clarity).
Yotta Point: What is GLTYR?
Sudhakar: GLTYR (pronounced “Glitter”) is a mobile app that helps create and present your message to make an emotional connection with your audience. Your message comes alive with a picture, audio and video and up to 900 characters of text. What makes this app even more exciting is that a GLTYR message can be created and sent out in as little as three to five minutes (depending on the length of your message) - entirely through the app.
Yotta Point: How did you come up with the idea for GLTYR?
Sudhakar: The genesis for GLTYR came from a combination of five technology and behavioral trends –
Yotta Point: Why should anyone consider using GLTYR? Aren’t there other apps out there which have similar capabilities?
First, some context. In Silicon Valley, tech labor has tended to be non-unionized for quite some time. Additionally, over the last two decades, I've seen software design, hardware manufacturing, hardware design and other functions move outside of the US (I have also been in positions where I have moved certain jobs overseas). The reasons are simple. There are qualified workers who can do these jobs outside the US, typically at a much lower cost. Moreover, when a company's competitors move jobs or are located overseas in cheaper labor markets, for financially competitive reasons the company ends up having to do the same. Additionally, some of the larger tech companies that sell directly in non-US end markets need workers in those regions. Despite this trend, and despite many tech jobs being non-unionized, Silicon Valley has managed to maintain a decent jobs picture (example) for well-paid employees - I think primarily because US tech companies continue to be at the forefront of driving significant innovation where more experienced US workers have an advantage over workers is job markets outside the US. My experience suggests that at least in Tech, where workers tend to be paid relatively well because of their skills, unionization has not been a significant factor in driving employment or wage trends. I can’t extrapolate from this to infer that the tech experience should be applied to every other industry but it is suggestive that we need to look for deeper explanations for increases in income inequality and decline in unionization in the US and other economies.
Starting point: I am more optimistic/bullish about future of news industry over next 20 years than almost anyone I know. Will grow 10x-100x.
He explains in several tweets how he sees the new business changing in the future. In a nutshell he believes the following (this is my translation or summation of his tweets):
News and media are one of my favorite topics and it is hard to do justice to this topic in a single & quick post, but I'll try. Since I have a fair amount of direct experience in this area and have enjoyed many discussions over the years with many friends interested in this area - like Peter Daou - I'll say the following in response to Andreessen's thoughtful observations.
I recently read Professor Michael Mann's book "The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars". There are several reviews of the book online, a couple of examples being Shawn Lawrence Otto's review at The Huffington Post and Jeff Masters' review at Wunderground. However, I found the book compelling, engaging and valuable on several fronts and felt it was worth making a few observations here. If you are a person who is not entirely familiar with the recent history and politics of climate science, it offers a highly readable and informative summary that captures some of the progress and setbacks over the last two decades or so. Mann's passion for climate science comes through very well in the book and in the process he also addresses in some detail the following aspects of climate change.
I. Scientific Process, Climate Politics & Denialism
2) The right role of true skepticism in scientific inquiry - and how this differs from the practice of climate change denial (or climate denial) that uses a combination of (a) a veneer of skepticism, (b) often incompetence in basic statistics and (c) the use of deliberately misleading data
3) The slow but gradual evolution of scientific knowledge, a process that is self-correcting and generates better understanding over time
4) The role of the key players in the fossil-fuels sector - whose future assets, fuel reserves and stock prices are at significant risk if meaningful climate change policy actions are taken - and that of other ideologically aligned wealthy donors in funding climate denialism
5) The deplorable, often personal attacks on climate scientists who publicly speak or write about the serious manifestations and consequences of climate change through willful misrepresentation of their or others' work and/or false accusations of fraud or misconduct
6) The increasing use of blogs (e.g., RealClimate) by climate scientists to communicate the science to the public and media, and push back in real time on false, distorted or misleading presentations of climate data
II. Science of Climate Change
7) The role that various natural (e.g., solar activity, volcanoes, various oceanic oscillations that operate over multi-year, decadal, multi-decadal or multi-century periods - such as the multi-year oscillation called ENSO or El-Nino/La Nina) and human-induced/anthropogenic factors (CO2, sulfur dioxide - SO2, etc.) play in influencing global warming and climate change
8) The role of temperature proxies - such as tree rings, ice cores, lake sediments, etc. - in the estimation of local, regional and global average temperatures in past centuries and millennia when accurate temperature measurements were not available
9) The use of statistical frameworks such as principal component analysis (PCA) in the understanding of underlying phenomena and variables driving temperature changes
Mann's book tries to cover all that and more and does a really nice job overall in giving the reader an expansive view of the nuanced subject of climate change, while passionately conveying the real urgency of acknowledging the dangers of ongoing and future warming and the need for immediate action. I highly recommend this book.
In terms of where the book could have been improved, I would suggest the following thoughts for Mann and other climate scientists to consider. Unless someone is an avid follower of the field of climate change and global warming, it is difficult to grasp the nuances and subtleties inherent in understanding climate, weather and the variables that can cause them to shift. I think Mann's book can be further improved, perhaps in his next edition, by more explicitly delving into common points of confusion for people I have talked to, such as:
Additionally, I would like to urge Mann and his colleagues/peers to invest more time in discussing & explaining the role of the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4) and the pros and cons of migrating our energy use from fuels like coal to natural gas, especially given the increasing concerns of methane leakage during natural gas extraction.
Finally, while I very much like blogs like Real Climate, climate scientists need to do a better job of communicating their findings and implications in plain English. Again, Skeptical Science is doing a fantastic job on this and newer initiatives like Climate Communication are welcome and overdue but scientists need to be more tuned to this need going forward.
Here are two new, excellent short videos (about a couple of minutes or so each) that explain (a) how global warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases is happening in parallel with natural variability of temperature due to factors such as volcanic eruptions (e.g., El Chichon and Pinatubo) and oceanic oscillations (e.g., El Nino and La Nina) and (b) how the average temperature derived from various paleoclimatic temperature proxies (e.g., ice cores, corals, etc.) are positively correlated with thermometer-based temperature records.
The video explaining natural versus human contributions to climate change is the one below from the outstanding blog Skeptical Science, and discussed in posts such as this one "16 More Years of Global Warming". Also worth reading are related posts from the last couple of years:
A broad team including several universities and NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) just published this paper - Global warming in an independent record of the last 130 years (David Anderson et al.) - in Geophysical Research Letters and a discussion of their paper at the NOAA website - "Independent Evidence Confirms Global Warming in Instrument Record". Skeptical Science also has some analysis and discussion of this paper at "Nature Confirms Global Warming and Temperature Record Accuracy". An additional resource worth reading is this 2006 report by The National Research Council of the National Academies - "Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years".
Here is a short video summarizing the results:
Additional posts definitely worth reading as we enter 2013 are below.
Happy New Year!