Dan McMillen on the difference between urban economics and regional science

Elsevier has sponsored a series of YouTube interviews with its journal editors. Here is Dan McMillen, explaining the difference between regional science and urban economics. These are short, so you might as want to take a look at the some of the others, including Stuart Rosenthal with one of my favorite journals, the Journal of Urban Economics.

Climate change conspiracy

David Levinson and I chatted via Facebook yesterday about something I posted on scientific illiteracy. I think he and I basically argued the same thing. He argued, succinctly, that scientists often overstate the certainty of their findings and should be questioned. I don’t actually disagree, but I’d argue that pretty much no one group can be trusted, not singly, and that’s why deliberation matters to both knowledge formation and policy. The goals of academic success are not necessarily social goals or even institutional goals, for one. However, I’d argue that mistrust of professional scientists should lead us to a different point than where we are: it should lead us to demand higher levels of personal literacy on math and science than the attrition to where I think we are: full-blown, hands-up-in-the-air, no-bloody-clue what’s going on or how to evaluate claims at a level more sophisticated than relating to personal experience.

Anyway, the interwebs are abuzz with hacked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Change Research Unit that supposedly prove a worldwide conspiracy to promote anthropogenic climate theories and downplay evidence to the contrary. I’ll link you to BoingBoing, as they have a lot of links you can follow. I urge particularly to read the material from Science Insider and the New York Times.

I read through bits and honestly…tempest in a pot of tea. The takeaway lesson:

1. High-profile, successful scientists try to present their findings in a way that has maximum impact; and

2. People are sloppy with what they put in emails.

3. Scholars form camps around theories and methods and thus disagree with scholars from other camps.

4. Scholars debate things. Seriously, nothing I’ve happened on–yet–in the these emails gets as heated as mine with Peter Gordon do. And I believe that Peter and I are cheerful colleagues who like and respect each other but who simply disagree about what the same data mean.

5. This is type of thing makes you look like even bigger jerks when you refuse to release models and information, which they should have done prior to this, period, the end.

Here are all of the emails if you have a lot of time on your hands. When you start reading, you’ll wish this conspiracy had Elvis because the reading gets dull pretty fast.

Security and profiling

John R. Richardson at Esquire discusses Sarah Palin’s comments about how she thinks political correctness prevented proper treatment of Dr. Hasan:

As usual, Sarah Palin captured the idea best. The occasion was her interview with Sean Hannity (a minute of which is shown above), who asked her if she thought that Ft. Hood killer was a terrorist.

“I certainly do,” Palin answered, “and I think that there were massive warning flags that were missed all over the place, and I think that it was quite unfortunate that, to me, it was a fear of being politically incorrect to not — I am going to use the word — profile this guy, profile in the sense of finding out what his radical beliefs were.”

Richardson correctly points out that this isn’t the real meaning of the word “profile” in this context. What she means, he argues, is investigate, which is really different than profiling. Profiling means that because of who is and his religion, we would subject him to scrutiny and surveillance the minute he showed up. His “major red flags”–which I assume were behavioral–are different. It’s the difference between the police saying “we pull over every black guy in a nice car” vs “we pull over every black guy (and every other guy) in a nice car going 80 mph.” One actually displays an evidentiary basis and probable cause, the other uses stereotype as evidence.

The key to social inclusion and justice in these instances is the focus on behavior, not identity, per se, and that focus on behavior goes both ways, as Richardson points out. It isn’t the case that, when moving to new countries, that immigrants should expect that their practices should rule public mores if they can’t be reasonably accommodated in existing cultural practice. It may be accepted that men beat their wives or children in their home country, but there are social contract reasons that invalidate that behavior in new contexts.

Let’s think of it this way: if I went on a shooting rampage tomorrow, would we then begin to argue for profiling of portly female professors? It’s doubtful. Palin routinely argues that she is part of an oppressed minority in the US: the religious right, and she shares a lot in common–superficially–with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. The difference is that she is engaged in dialogue and deliberation, not antisocial behavior, and that distinction matters enormously in how society should treat difference.

Michelle O is a knock-out

Ok, folks, I got nothing intelligent to say about sustainable cities today and so I just want to go on record as saying that while I am actually not Barack Obama’s biggest fan, Michelle is honestly the most beautiful first lady we’ve had since Jacqueline Kennedy. Let’s hope Michelle has a happier life, which, if she keeps wearing things like this dress from Naeem Khan, is virtually inevitable. It’s hard to be this fabulous and unhappy at the same time.

Here’s to having a superfantastic, restorative, and restful holiday!

African Americans and the Recession

Damien Goodmon of FixExpo.Org shared this story from the Washington Post. The tagline: 34.5 percent of young African American men are unemployed. Make sure you read to the end:

“Black men were less likely to receive a call back or job offer than equally qualified white men,” said Devah Pager, a sociology professor at Princeton University, referring to her studies a few years ago of white and black male job applicants in their 20s in Milwaukee and New York. “Black men with a clean record fare no better than white men just released from prison.”

Downtown LA Weenie Bicyclists

Andy and I were on the sidewalk the other day with our dogs, and we stopped to chat with another couple who had their dogs, and we weren’t taking up that much space–there was room for people to walk around us–but a bicyclist went around us and yelled “You’re blocking the sidewalk!”

How dare we use the sidewalk for interaction and conversation when he wants it as a dedicated bikeway where he can go 30 mph without cars? If I move out of downtown Los Angeles, it won’t be because of the pervasive pee smell, the dodgy after hours crime, and the ridiculous per-square foot prices for what you get. It will be because of the weenie bicyclists.

Yes, I said it. If you ride your bike on the sidewalk in downtown LA, you are a big weenie. The traffic in downtown Los Angeles is not NEARLY as dodgy or difficult as places, like Georgetown or Manhattan or downtown Paris, where real bicyclists ride–if they want to ride quickly–in the street. There are some of those bicyclists here. But most downtown bicyclists are weenies who bully pedestrians on the sidewalk by going way too fast, missing pedestrians by inches, and just basically being jerks.

I have no problem with people who ride on the sidewalk if they go along at a pace appropriate to the flow of pedestrians. Those are bicyclists who adopt their speed to the right level and act like part of the sidewalk community. But once a cyclist starts going fast enough to really hurt somebody on sidewalk–which is slower than most people think–he or she should get on the street.

Given this behavior, it’s hard for me to support the arguments that most cyclists make for public investment. When bicyclists tend to speak in planning discussions, they take on a heavy tone that they are doing right and the rest of us are doing wrong: they are clean and green and healthy and the rest of the world–and by this they mean car drivers–are lazy planet killers. Only many of the rest of us are not drivers or cyclists. We’re pedestrians. We move slowly. We have toddlers by the hand, bags of groceries in our arms. When bicyclists tear through the space pedestrians occupy, cyclists become the safety equivalent of an SUV–the biggest, heaviest, most forceful kid on the block. So my feeling is that in the eyes of the average downtown bicyclist, I am an obstacle to be shoved around the way they themselves feel bullied and ignored on the street. Instead of making it work through decency, respect, and goodwill, it’s about who is biggest and has the most metal behind them.

I’m sorry there isn’t more space for cyclists and I’ll do what I can to advocate for more, but at some point, bicyclists have to stop acting like weenies in downtown LA. Fine, do all your protests where you take up the whole road, by all means, but don’t expect anybody to respect what you are doing and see this mode of transport as a positive, constructive force if large portions of the biking community are self-indulgent street bullies who make the sidewalk miserable for the rest of us.

Time Lapse Geography of the Recession

HT to David Levinson

This a an animation from The American Observer on the Geography of the Recession. Go see it: unbelievable.

A student threw a very public tantrum the other day and blamed the fact that he was facing the “worse job market since the Great Depression”. This is only marginally and recently true; the thing about my generation, wedged between the very loud Baby Boomers and their equally loud Echo, is that nobody has paid any attention to us, Gen X. But the 17.5 percent rate reported by the New York Times has only *just* exceeded the 17.1 percent of the early 1980s, which I remember quite well. This was in Iowa, where farm loss was routine and which all of our parents feared more than death.

So I listen to people give talks now and they say “the younger generations have never known such hard times as these” and it just rubs me the wrong way. Maybe he doesn’t consider my group young, but it’s not as though there haven’t been poor people during these generations’ lifetime. It’s that we didn’t pay them attention except to treat them like crap, blame them for their own poverty, and use all of the above as an excuse to dismantle the social safety net.

Polar Bear Simulacra

The St. Louis Zoo is putting electronic proxy bears in their exhibit now that their live bears have passed away.

One of my favorite colleagues, Martin Krieger, discussed the idea of simulated nature in piece he published in Science in 1973. He talks, however, about rare natural environments, not zoo environments–the latter being inherently constructed. In a short, concise piece, he develops this notion of “proxy” nature.

It all brings up the question: what is the role of the zoo in the sustainable city? Is there one? Are they destined to become Disneyland natura?

Krieger, M. 1973. “What’s wrong with plastic trees: rationals for preserving rare natural environments involve economic, societal, and political factors.” Science. 179 (4072): 446-455.

Luke, T.  2002. Museum Pieces: Power Plays at the Exhibition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 298 pp.