Sunday, May 31, 2009

Chutes without Ladders

  1. Conservatism loves authority.
  2. The conservative understanding of patriarchal authority excludes even the possibility of hypocrisy (in their view, whatever the chief says, by definition, is true).
  3. The absence of an understanding of hypocrisy means that irony is dead too (hypocrisy and irony are two sides of the same coin -- hypocrisy is intentional, irony is unintentional, but both produce the opposite effect of what is publicly stated or desired).
  4. If there can be no hypocrisy or irony (if one could never say one thing and do another or unintentionally say or do something that causes the opposite result) there can be no self parody (as heirs to a tradition which excludes hypocrisy or irony, one could never accidentally or unintentionally humiliate oneself).
  5. Which leads to stoopid shit like this.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sex is not the same thing as gender

This is a really simple concept but so many people don't understand it that it leads to a lot of confusion. Needless to say conservatives don't understand the difference between sex and gender but I find that even some good progressives are unclear on the distinction, so let me just try to break it down for a minute:

Sex is biological. In humans, each cell normally contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair, the sex chromosomes, differ between males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome, while males have one X and one Y chromosome. (More here.)

Making matters more confusing, occasionally some people are born with two X chromosomes and at least one Y chromosome (more info here) or one X chromosome and two Y chromosomes (more info here). So even biologically determined sex, male and female, is not black and white, either/or.

Gender is socially constructed. Masculinity and femininity are socially constructed and socially defined. Both male (XY) and female (XX) can express masculinity or femininity as they so choose.

You can have an opposite sex marriage (a man and a woman -- as Carrie Prejean would prefer things apparently) that is still also a same gender marriage (both male or both female in how they choose to express themselves socially). So too you can have a same-sex marriage (two men or two women) that is still also an opposite gender marriage (one same sex partner expresses the traditionally opposite gender).

Because gender is socially constructed -- no one person is ever entirely one or the other, masculine or feminine. We are all a blend of both masculinity and femininity and that blend can change as we so choose. Indeed it is increasingly clear that a balance of masculinity and femininity is essential to the health of any organism.

As I understand it, the California Supreme Court is NOT deciding same-gender marriage. They are ruling on same-sex marriage (whether two people who both have XX or who both have XY chromosomes can marry each other). Same-gender marriage (because gender is socially constructed) is already legal in all 50 states.

The problem: and the understandable source of much confusion is that the words male and female can refer to either sex or gender. The words were developed during an ancient time in which people (wrongly it turns out) assumed that biologically determined sex and socially determined gender, were the same thing. Now we know that they are not. But the words male and female persist -- and are used interchangeably in conversation sometimes to connote sex and other times to connote gender usually without the speaker ever specifying which meaning is intended.

That's the reason that conservatives always get it wrong on same sex marriage. They incorrectly think that gender is biologically determined -- so any male (XY) who expresses (social) female traits is viewed as acting "against nature" -- against their "biological programming." Conservative love so called "natural law" -- unfortunately, they don't actually understand nature very well and so they usually get both nature and human nature wrong.

Update #1. Tuesday, May 26, 2009 is Stonewall Tuesday here in California as the State Supreme Court hands down their decision regarding Prop 8. I just want to remind everyone that no matter what they decide this thing is going to end up going before the voters again. If the State Supreme Court does the right thing and strikes down Prop 8 -- we're gonna have to put together a campaign to protect our justices from a recall effort. And if they do the wrong thing and uphold the heinous Prop 8 -- then we're gonna have to go to the ballot box to try to overturn their decision. So yeah, let's get ready to burn the mutherfucker down and make this place ungovernable if they uphold Prop 8 on Tuesday. But remember that we're still gonna have to win it at the ballot box sooner or later (probably in November 2010).

Watching Phil Jackson coach the Lakers...

... is like watching a rich kid with a new Lamborghini who just keeps grinding the gears because he doesn't know how to drive. From moment to moment the team lurches, spins its wheels, zooms ahead, veers off track, and stalls out as Phil Jackson aimlessly fiddles with buttons and instruments that he doesn't understand.

Jordan Farmar ran the offense more effectively last night than Derek Fisher and he guards Billups better too. But down the stretch Jackson went with Fisher. Furthermore, Bynum had a great first half and we could have used a big guy to clog up the lane in the 2nd half (to stop Billups and Melo from driving) -- but Jackson inexplicably benched Bynum for the entire second half in favor of the smaller Odom. I have no problem with Odom being in there -- he just needs to be in there as small forward rather than power forward.

Note to Kobe Bryant: Look dude, this is your team -- Jackson will do whatever you tell him. You need to tell Jackson to play Bynum for 35 minutes every night. Either Bynum succeeds or he fails. But you can't win a championship without a legitimate center (I love Gasol, but he's simply not a true center).

Player for player, the Lakers are the best team in the playoffs. But, in Phil Jackson, they have the worst coach. As such they barely got by the JV Houston Rockets and it's unclear whether they'll get by Denver.

The modern brain is like Microsoft Windows (unfortunately)

Microsoft Windows is basically just a pretty graphical user interface that hides the fact that the computer system is actually running on clunky archaic DOS. So too the modern brain (including the frontal lobe and all the more highly evolved brain structures that emerged over millions of years of evolution) is really just the pretty user interface (with ethics and morality and speech) that hides that fact that we are really run (too much of the time) by our archaic lizard brains -- that want power and sex and violence. (My earlier Bowlingual post was getting at a similar idea as it applies to modern political campaigns.) How else do we explain that fact that we continue to engage in war and violence and hormonally driven mating behavior in spite of the fact that by now we should know better?

I wonder if the reason Generation Y is so much fucking smarter than every other generation is because they are the first generation where their operating system has been built correctly and seamlessly from inception. By that I mean, Generation Y is the first generation to grow up with equal rights for women, environmental awareness, multiculturalism, globalism, new technologies -- and I wonder if that changes how their brains are organized. Said differently I wonder if Generation Y is really the Apple Mac OS (built from inception to take advantage of modern processors without the ancient crappy baggage of DOS) while earlier generations continue to rely on Windows/DOS (acting as if they are the same thing when they aren't). How else to explain how quickly and easily Gen Y seems to just get it -- whether it is new technology or complex social issues.

Update #1: I guess the Mac OS is built upon Unix code -- so it does have a former structure in there but it's light years more advanced than DOS I would argue.

Note to California legislators

Dear Members of the California Assembly and Senate:

With a looming $24 billion budget deficit you either have to raise revenue or cut spending, correct? And NONE of the recent ballot measures raised revenue or cut spending -- they were all just accounting tricks to move the problem down the road. No wonder they all got voted down (except for the pay freeze for legislators during a budget crunch -- which everyone knew was going to pass overwhelmingly).

The proposed cuts in health care and education outlined thus far are untenable and immoral.

I think you've got 2 (actually pretty good) choices -- raise revenue as outlined below or call a constitutional convention to re-write the tax code to get rid of Prop 13 (which is the real elephant in the living room).

I actually think there are still significant opportunities to raise taxes and not get voted out of office. Here are the things you can tax heavily and still get re-elected:

1. Tobacco. Nobody likes to smoke -- they'll thank you for taxing the hell out of cigarettes. You could tax it as high as $7 a pack and still justify it based on the actual health costs to the state of smoking.

2. Alcohol. Same reasoning as above.

3. Sugar. Same reasoning as above.

4. Transfats. Same reasoning as above.

5. Natural resources. You could significantly increase the cost of drilling for oil and mining in the State of California. Either we get more revenue or fewer oil wells -- either way the public wins.

6. Toxics, pesticides, pollution. Like tobacco, everybody hates these things and they'd love the excuse not to buy them.

Good luck ya'll. Seriously, cutting health care programs for poor people is bullshit so please come up with a better plan. Thanks.

RFK Action Front

The subconscious logic of the Senate Gitmo vote

Okay so Senate Democrats did something seemingly crazy this week. After years of railing against the illegal U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay Cuba -- they voted to withhold the funding necessary to close Guantanamo (aka Gitmo).

But on closer examination, I'm not sure it's all that crazy. I think their (subconscious) calculus goes something like this:

1. Many of the prisoners at Gitmo are actually innocent -- swept up in the panicked raids after 9/11.

2. Innocent prisoners if given a fair trial, will likely go free for lack of evidence.

3. In many cases they can't go back to their home countries -- because they would be tortured or killed there.

4. So it's conceivable that a U.S. court might be willing to grant asylum in the U.S. to innocent Gitmo prisoners.

5. But because we tortured the hell out of them at Gitmo -- once free they actually could become terrorists now (for the first time) in retaliation for what we did to them. After being illegally imprisoned and tortured for 7 or 8 years, what would you do?

Hence the seemly crazy statement, "we don't want terrorists released in the U.S." actually does have a certain perverse logic to it.

I think what Senate Democrats are actually saying between the lines is, "we can't give these people a fair trial now because of the possibility they might rightly retaliate for the illegal and immoral acts we already committed against them." What a complete fucking mess.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I take back all those mean things I said about The Hills

I take back all those mean things I said about The Hills. It's the best freakin' show on television. I'll do you one better -- Spencer, as in Heidi and Spencer, is the most compelling character on TV in quite some time.

Here's the key to understanding Spencer: he's a guy who hates himself so much, he's literally trying to commit "suicide by girlfriend" (much like the better known suicide by cop) on national TV. Apparently he's filled with self loathing but lacks the will to do himself in. So instead he finds the most vapid, humiliating, empty shell of a girlfriend that he can and pledges his love to her. If you are watching the show hoping to see a the plight of a normal guy in search of a healthy relationship -- you're gonna be disappointed -- like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football held by Lucy, or me watching the Lakers, hoping Phil Jackson will actually coach.

Instead, Spencer goes out of his way to be humiliated on purpose. Most shows he doesn't even remember his girlfriend's name -- calling her Heidi sometimes and Holly other times. And he doesn't care -- the goal is humiliation and anything he can do to mess up (cheating openly, goading, eye rolling) just brings the flood of scorn that he so desires. It's fascinating to watch him happily bathe in humiliation and contempt like they were bubbles in a Calgon commercial. In many ways, Spencer is the modern retelling of The Story of O -- but the sexes have been reversed and now it's the male masochist who holds our attention as the depths of his debasement show no limits. As such he becomes a character as compelling as any devised by Beckett, a piece of performance art that makes a powerful social commentary on the state of the modern American male -- willing to sacrifice all pride in order to be seen with a gal who embodies all that is wrong with modern American culture. What started out as a lens to view culture, has become so extreme and so polarized that it is now the mirror reflecting back at us, taunting the viewer, privately exposing our own humiliation as we can't stop looking at the trainwreck that is us.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ya gotta see this photo

President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a family visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009. The youngster wanted to see if the President's haircut felt like his own. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.)

Spend a moment thinking about that. Why would that be the foremost question on that kid's mind? The kid was asking: can someone like me, an African American kid with hair that is different from the white kids at school, really grow up to be president? That's what he was asking. And the president, bowed down before this kid and showed him: Yes you can.

I don't always agree with Obama. I hate TARP and Timothy Geithner and whole Wall Street bailout mess. But when I see photos like this, I think, wow, what an extraordinary extraordinary human being.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

How it really is

If you are one of the many people who believe that we are living in "the golden age of psychopharmacology" (as the pharmaceutical company PR reps would have you believe) please take a moment to read the comment thread in the link below. It'll break your heart to read the real stories of real people having real experiences with these drugs -- rather than the sunny TV commercials:

HUGE props to Dr. Carlot for his fascinating blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Black swans in finance, pharmaceuticals, and food safety

Back in January, Joe Nocera, had a piece in the Sunday NY Times Magazine called "Risk Management," where he attempted to explain what exactly caused the Wall Street meltdown. Nocera takes a close look at a financial tool called VaR -- Value at Risk which was developed by quants at JPMorgan in the early 1990s.

"[VaR] measure the boundaries of risk in a portfolio over short durations, assuming a "normal" market. For instance, if you have $50 million of weekly VaR, that means that over the course of the next week, there is a 99 percent chance that your portfolio won't lose more than $50 million.

VaR became extremely popular as JPMorgan made the decision to give the tool away. Over time the international Basel Committee on Banking Supervision ruled that "banks could rely on their own internal VaR calculation to set their capital requirements" and the Securities and Exchange Commission "mandated that financial firms would have to disclose their risk to investors -- and VaR became the de facto measure." VaR became the standard by which Wall Street was measured. Paradoxically, as more firms adopted VaR -- executives pushed their firms to take on even greater risk -- nobody wanted to be left out of the gold rush ("At the height of the bubble, there was so much money to be made that any firm that pulled back because it was nervous about risk would forsake huge short-term gains and lose out to less cautious rivals.")

The problem with VaR was several-fold. 1.) It was poorly built -- current risks were modeled on the stock market performance of just the last few years -- a period characterized by an expanding real estate bubble and irrational exuberance in the market. 2.) VaR is correct 99% of the time -- but what about that other 1% of the time? VaR has no ability to predict or prevent the 1% disaster scenario -- the so called "black swan" where an unanticipated risk destroys your entire company.

The fact that you are not likely to lose more than a certain amount 99 percent of the time tells you absolutely nothing about what could happen the other 1 percent of the time. You could lose $51 million instead of $50 million -- no big deal. You could also lose billions and go out of business. VaR has no way of measuring which it will be."

The 1% disaster scenario was named "the black swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb who wrote a book called, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. 1% isn't zero -- there are 252 trading days a year -- so sooner or later a black swan is going to show up. And if you are resting easy relying on the fact that VaR has you covered (as most Wall Street firms did over the last several years) -- your company is gonna be in trouble when the inevitable black swan hits.

Starting in the spring of 2007, black swans started to appear everywhere. The housing bubble popped. Mortgage backed securities were junk. Credit default swaps (basically insurance policies that bet that a company won't go under) were worthless. AAA credit ratings were a lie. Hedge funds started to collapse. AIG -- which was underwriting much of the worldwide risk -- had to be taken over by the federal government because it too was bankrupt. 1% of the time happened -- and in an increasingly interconnected global economy -- when it does it takes the entire world economy down with it.

But here's the thing -- black swans aren't just a Wall Street phenomenon. I bet black swans are everywhere. What if many of the biggest health and safety disasters all around us are just the result of black swans in other industries. For example, what if:

99% of the time the anti-depressant works as prescribed, the other 1% of the time the kid goes on a killing spree and shoots up the school.

99% of the time the vaccine prevents the dreaded disease as promised. The other 1% of the time the kid develops autism and is locked inside his own body for the rest of his life.

99% of the time the aspartame makes our food sweet and delicious. The other 1% of the time (or even the other .1% of the time!) it causes an autoimmune disorder that destroys someone's quality of life.

99% of the time, the pollution from the factory seems harmless. The other 1% of the time it causes MS or Lou Gehrig's disease or leukemia.

99% of the time the factory farm produces some damn good bacon. The other 1% of the time it produces the swine flu.

We live in a world where 99% percent accuracy is deemed "good enough" in finance, pharmaceuticals, environmental protection, food safety, etc. And the truth is, it's not. If Boeing had a 99% success rate -- they would be out of business in less than a year. No one would ever fly because their planes would be dropping out of the sky all of the time.

1% is actually a catastrophically high failure rate. And yet we tend to measure statistical significance only to a level of 5% or 1% or .1% and act like we've got things covered. Statistical significance at 5%, 1% or even .1% is a good enough model if we are playing horseshoes. But when actual human lives are at stake (as they are in almost any decision involving medicine or health and safety) it would seem down right irresponsible not to measure statical significance to a level of at least .0001% (99.9999% certainty or rather a one in 1 million chance of the event occurring). It's like our statistical measures are built for an early more innocent age where shit just happened and we didn't know why. But these days, it seems unconscionable to walk around acting like the 1% scenario will never happen -- when we know it happens all the time.

Update #1: There's something odd about the Joe Nocera article that's still bugging me. Nocera is all busy pondering the koan of whether:
VaR and the other risk models Wall Street relies on could have helped prevent the financial crisis if only Wall Street paid better attention to them? Or did Wall Street's reliance on them help lead us into the abyss?
Look, it's an interesting question -- said differently was it the Hal 9000 or the human element that screwed things up?

But it seems to me -- that's not the question at all! The real question is: why was VaR modeled on only a couple years worth of boom-time era data (and based on the ridiculous assumption that "housing prices never go down")? Any 5th grader in the country could tell you that a reliable VaR would have to include all of the data from the present back until the 1920s -- so that one would have at least one great depression and several deep recessions built into the model as probable scenarios. And you mean to tell me that NO ONE on Wall Street -- with all of their MBAs and fancy math degrees, didn't figure that out? Nocera has this "aw gee golly shucks" approach to this matter -- as if it was just an understandable oversight. It wasn't an oversight. The math and fancy equations of VaR were the ruse -- designed to fool the public into thinking their investments were safe. But surely the quants were in on the scam. Surely the math geniuses devising the models knew they were bunk -- and just a marketing tool -- not a risk management device. And yet Joe Nocera and Alan Greenspan and Timothy Geithner and Barack Obama are all like, "oh gee golly shucks that probably wasn't the best model" rather than pursuing the obvious criminality of the entire enterprise.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

David Brooks copies Malcolm Gladwell's homework and calls it his own

Three of the last four columns by David Brooks in the NY Times borrow directly from the work of Malcolm Gladwell -- and not once does Brooks mention Gladwell or cite him in any way. What a hack.

A few weeks ago (May 1, 2009), against my better judgment I started to read David Brooks' column, "Genius: The Modern View" which makes the case that genius is not the product of a divine spark but rather the result of persistent hard work. I thought, 'oh how nice, Brooks is going to talk about Gladwell's piece "Late Bloomers" from the October 20, 2008 edition of the New Yorker (which came out 6 months earlier) and has much the same theme. Or perhaps Brooks would cite Gladwell's work in Outliers which makes the case in chapter 2 that it really takes about 10,000 hours to master anything.' Sure enough Brooks in "Genius the Modern View" cites the example of Mozart to make his case just as Gladwell discusses both Mozart and Cezanne in his piece "Late Bloomers." Brooks even cites the "10,000 hour rule" as the key to understanding this phenomenon just as Gladwell does on pages 35 to 68 in Outliers. But I reached the end of the article and discovered that even though Brooks borrows both his thesis and main illustrations from Gladwell -- he never mentions Gladwell once in his article.

Then a week later it happened again! David Brooks' column, "The Harlem Miracle" appeared on May 8, 2009 in the NY Times. In it he talks about the remarkable gains in student achievement produced by the charter schools operated by the Harlem Children's Zone. The thesis of the article is that with massive numbers of hours of instruction in the proper school setting, children from disadvantaged backgrounds can perform as well as children from more advantageous backgrounds. Like an idiot I thought to myself, 'oh how nice, Brooks will surely talk about Gladwell's findings on pages 250 to 269 in Outliers about the results of the Knowledge is Power Program in the South Bronx -- which showed these same results (but a decade earlier.)' But once again, even though Brooks' thesis copied Gladwell's earlier (and better) writing on the topic -- Brooks never mentions Gladwell in his article. It is as if Brooks did a "find and replace" -- taking Gladwell's earlier work and replacing "Knowledge is Power Program" with "Harlem Children's Zone" and replacing "the South Bronx" (where Gladwell's chapter is set) with "Harlem."

Finally, and this is starting to get ridiculous, Brooks "borrowed" from Gladwell yet again this week (May 12, 2009) in his column, "They Had it Made." This time Brooks looks at the results from a longitudinal study called, "The Grant Study" which followed the Harvard class of 1942 throughout their entire life span. The only problem is that Brooks column mirrors Gladwell's analysis of the Terman longitudinal study which Gladwell writes about on pages 73 to 115 in Outliers. For the 3rd time in 4 weeks Brooks ripped off an idea from Gladwell -- and never once mentioned Gladwell in the article.

Look, David Brooks is smart enough not to directly plagiarize Gladwell and pass it off as his own writing. But he is basing his entire workload for the past month on the ideas of Malcolm Gladwell and not giving Gladwell any credit. What do you bet that Brooks read Outliers over the holidays but by now he's forgotten where the ideas came from and so he's just passing them off as his own? Can the NY Times please just fire David Brooks and just syndicate Gladwell's original work from the New Yorker instead.

The slut shaming of Carrie Prejean

Look, if you have a problem with Carrie Prejean -- "slut shaming" her is not the proper critique. Valid criticism could include:

1. Beauty pageants are awful sexist institutions that should die a natural death as our society evolves.
2. She has a contract that states she would be a spokesperson to draw attention to helping people with disabilities and she is violating her contract by becoming James Dobson's bitch.
3. She's a bigot.
4. She's a bigot and she's using her body to get old Republican white guys off in the name of moral purity.
5. She's a bigot and she's practicing bigotry in the name of religion.

But the naked or nearly naked pictures of her are not the issue.


Phil Jackson, marriage counselor

An interlude from our regular political commentary for a bit of sports analysis...

As anyone who knows me can attest -- I'm NOT a fan of Phil Jackson, coach of the LA Lakers. Watching Phil Jackson coach is like watching a Mister Magoo cartoon. When the cameras pan over to him sitting on the sidelines, invariably he looks lost -- with his mouth open like a turkey looking up at the rain. Sometimes he wanders the sidelines aimlessly and I wonder if perhaps he's just looking for the churro vendor?

My primary beef with Phil Jackson is that he gets paid $10 million a year -- and yet he refuses to call a time out when the other team makes a run. Any other coach it the league will immediately call a time out the moment they sense the energy shift in a game (Larry Brown is a genius at this). Phil Jackson says he doesn't call time outs because "he wants the players to figure it out themselves." But if the players could have figured it out themselves -- they would have. That's why teams have things called "coaches" in the first place -- to help players figure things out when they are somehow unable to do it themselves.

So I got to wondering what Phil Jackson's life might have been like if he had gone in to a different line of work:

Phil Jackson, marriage counselor: "Thank you both for coming in today. I understand you've been having some marriage difficulties. Just work is out yourselves. That'll be 10 million dollars. Thanks."

Phil Jackson, ambulance driver: "I see you've been in an accident. Get yourself to the hospital. That'll be 10 million dollars. Thanks."

Phil Jackson, pizza chef: "Hey thanks for coming in to the restaurant. Fix your own damn pizza. That'll be 10 million dollars. Thanks."

This really is the joke that just keeps on giving. Feel free to come up with your own. Enjoy the game tonight.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Naomi Klein on the Wall Street Bailout

Naomi Klein was on the Rachel Maddow show tonight talking about the current Wall Street bailout and all of the problems therein.

As always -- Klein captures the problem exactly -- the Obama administration wants to be Keynesian when it comes to the stimulus package -- which is great -- while also continuing crony capitalism for Wall Street -- which is disastrous.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fixing academia: a modest proposal

Mark Taylor's recent Op Ed in the NY Times, "End the University as We Know It" makes a number of great points. I was particularly interested by this paragraph:

Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. In my own religion department, for example, we have 10 faculty members, working in eight subfields, with little overlap. And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

I think in many respects that is the heart of the matter -- hyper-specialization in the social science is making many disciplines completely irrelevant to the wider society. When social sciences try to be physical sciences and try to describe immutable truths -- they may as well just write FAIL in big letters across their foreheads.

Here's my modest proposal:

1. Specialization from the hard sciences (physics, biology, chemistry, neuroscience, etc.) -- is actually pretty helpful. It really does matter what the most finite properties of the atom are and we ultimately benefit when scientists at MIT or Cal Tech figure that stuff out.

2. By contrast it seems to me that what we need from the social sciences is breadth -- wider distribution of existing good ideas. Democracy is a pretty great idea in political science. It would be great if all people on the planet had access to democracy. So it seems clear that the world would benefit more if a graduate student in political science got on a plane and taught democracy to people in Sudan rather than writing a Ph.D. dissertation on how Rawls used commas in his early works. Sociology departments are another glaring example of where breadth (wider distribution of existing ideas) would be more helpful than increased specialization. Equal rights between men and women is a pretty good idea. So is the idea that gay people are okay just as they are. So it would seem evident that what the world needs is not another conference of sociologists all talking to each other using inside-baseball terminology. Rather, suffering in the world would decrease if these same people walked out of the halls of academia and worked on a marriage equality ballot measure or worked to train others to end domestic violence. I would wager that over half of the world's suffering -- from malnutrition to the inefficiencies of an authoritarian state, to violence against women, children, and people who are LGBT -- could be prevented with wider distribution of existing good ideas in the social sciences.

3. We need a 3rd discipline -- that combines 1 and 2. We need need a hybrid discipline of folks who can translate scientific advances (depth) into real world applications that improve the quality of life for everyone (breadth). So if someone at Cal Tech invents a great way to improve water quality -- great -- who is going to make sure that every person in Africa (or Appalachia) has access to the fruits of that innovation? Who is going to influence the political and cultural systems necessary to distribute these gains widely?

I'm happy to have hard scientists in the lab -- but social scientists need to be in the world and of the world -- not just observing things but actually working to transform hearts and minds and political systems and business practices in ways that reduce suffering and increase happiness.