Archive for category Economics


Posted by on Wednesday, 30 October, 2013


funny cartoon of kid squeezed into school desk



You just bought yourself a nice ergonomic chair for your desk. It wasn’t cheap, but who needs back pain?

Meanwhile, back at school, guess what’s happening to junior? He’s doing contortions to squeeze into his crap school desk.

Is this bad?

You bet!

Ana Assunção is in the Biomechanics and Functional morphology Lab at the University of Lisbon. She was the lead in a project to figure out why so many students (two thirds of the ones she studied) have back pain. It didn’t seem right that so many kids between 12 and 15 years old were gimping around like their elders.

What she discovered is that poor fitting  school desks and too heavy backpacks are a lethal combo. What she didn’t discover is where school systems will find the money to do a better job with the furniture.


– – – – – –

The drawing is mine



Posted by on Saturday, 20 August, 2011



They’re fighting about the best way to fix the economy. I don’t trust the economists on this one. Why not? Because so-called economists – the ones in the nice suits on the tube, anyway – get to pick out their own evidence. And be their own peer reviewers. They ask themselves questions like: Do the American People want corrupt bankers and crud-eating upper crust rich people who fly in corporate jets to get tax breaks?  Then they answer their own questions: Why NO THEY DON’T!!!!

Other scientists – physicists and chemists, biologists, and astronomers are jealous. How come THEY don’t get to make it up as THEY go along?


In Europe, several countries are broke. To fix things, their leaders want to put the brakes on government spending.

Well, old John Maynard Keynes wouldn’t have recommended such a solution. He believed that  in a recession or a depression, the government should spend money like a chimp at the mint. That’s what the Bush administration did when things went woozy; and the Obama administration  continued shoveling wads of money out the window. With a bigger shovel.

By the way, I guess this was the right thing to do since we ducked a depression. Even that recession everyone thinks we’re still in ended a while back in 2010.

Well, you might ask,  if  the pump priming thing works so good, why shut off the water? What’s with austerity? Are Europeans a bunch of half wits?


But maybe they think that spending’s like plastic surgery. It just makes things worse and delays the inevitable. We should “man up”. It’ll hurt –  It’ll hurt bad. But we’ll get past it and the economy will get going again in a healthier way.

That’s what they say.

Anyway,  “austerity” is the hot new idea in Europe. It’s hot with some Americans, too, which is what led to the smooth way Congress handled the debt ceiling business.

Here’s the thing. In 2006, when the economy fritzed out, Europe and the US did pretty much the same thing. There wasn’t a lotta time to  flip through old books and study. We had money to toss . So we tossed . Keynes would of been proud.

Now?We’re in a different place. The recovery hasn’t failed. Not so far. Could be better. But not as awful as the spinners make it sound. (Unless YOU’RE the one selling pencils out of a tin cup. I GET that!) We’re not trying to dodge a depression at the moment. This is “What do you do if the recovery’s losing steam” time. Maybe we COULD have inflation if we overdo. (Hard to believe.) So the austerity stuff isn’t as nuts you think. Maybe stimulating again COULD be overkill. Maybe.

Is it too early to stop spending and tighten up? MISTERScienceAintSoBad won’t say. It takes away the fun.


We kid around about economics being quasi-scientific, but it’s no worse than genetics or medicine or particle physics. If some guy on the tube is using half facts to jerk you around, you can’t blame it on REAL scientists. That’s not fair.

There’s nothing wrong with studying how the top primates (you and me), gyp each other out  of stuff .  How some get richer and others get poorer. As a science, economics is easy to quantify. Theories can be tested.  Very sciency, indeed. Nothing quasi about it.

It’s a TRICKY science.  That’s for sure! Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Human’s  culture’s so complicated. Plus we lie more than minnows do when questioned about our activities. But, so WHAT?

If you think the other sciences are so simple , why aren’t YOU Sir Isaac Newton?

Excuse me if you happen to be. I meant, in general.

Listen, I’ve defended economics before. It’s a fine kind of science.

Just don’t confuse the scientists with the entertainment.



Credits for the above illustration to myself. It’s not like I can’t draw stick figures.

Iranian Scientist Says Ouch!

Posted by on Friday, 27 August, 2010



Thinking about being a physicist in Iran?

Can’t blame you. It sounds like a really, great life.

Hashem Rafii-Tabar  ( Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences)  says nobody’ll talk to you. You can’t get invited to scientific meetings. Can’t buy equipment or supplies and yer gonna pay double if you do.


Cause sanctions – those very same sanctions that, supposedly “don’t work” – are KILLING research in that garden of scientific freedom known as Iran.

In case you’re not up to speed on all this, unless western intelligence is VERY much mistaken (and, no, it would NOT be the first time), Iran is closing in on a nuclear device which could be an atomic bomb.

Could be a hydrogen bomb.

Could be a time machine.

Or not.

Cynical western countries certainly don’t “get” all the centrifuges, missiles, and other activities which they say are aimed ONLY at nuclear bang bang.

Iran says it’s a simple case of demonization of Israel’s rivals. A country has the right to its own science and Iran’s only thinking about its future energy needs.

Who’s the fibber here? MisterScienceAintSoBad wouldn’t know fer sure. But he tilts toward the West cause he’s brainwashed by the Boston Globe.

Nobody knows for sure. Maybe Iran’s just “blowin’ neutrons”. But,just to be on the safe side, the “world” is clamping down hard on Iran. Four UN resolutions. And the European Union has its own sanctions regime.

North Korea thinks it’s somewhat overdone.

Can’t please everybody.


Rafii-Tabar says the sanctions are screwing up his life.  “You cannot buy workstations or supercomputers.” Can’t even get free software. Click on a link and the Internet “recognizes the IP address as being in Iran and a message comes through that we cannot download.”

Can you imagine?

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad believes in freedom of science, freedom of the Internet, freedom of the airwaves.. well, you know. And sympathizes with the many, many modern, progressive Iranian men and women who are so frustrated by the consequences of decisions in which they did not and could not participate.  It would be just AWFUL if Iranian scientists felt they had to flee the country just so they could rejoin the scientific community.

Wouldn’t it?

News source:
Physics Today

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Posted by on Tuesday, 22 June, 2010

MISTERScienceAintSoBad doesn’t write about economics much. It is a science. But nobody seems to BELIEVE it. So I get dirty looks when I write about it.

Still. Economics has its uses.

Right now the US economy’s suffering from serious butt-drag as it recovers (Please ScienceGod) from the recession. So, naturally, some want to stimulate things a little more. Course, the other side of it is that there’re concerns about raising revenues so the government doesn’t go broke.

Is it possible to do both? Can you lower taxes (tax RATES, that is) and still make a buck doing it? Can we separate the politics and the BS from the EVIDENCE?

A thought experiment:


In 1905, Albert Einstein was thinking about elevators.

“Whoa!,” he said. ” I shove my physics professor into a falling  elevator. He says ‘what a cool little room with no gravity.’  When it hits bottom? No more elevator. No more Herr Kleiner. No more finals.”

” This is my happiest thought,” Einstein said.

Smart guy, that Einstein.


Thought experiments aren’t limited to physics.

At a 1974 meeting, Arthur Laffer, an economist from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, took out his ballpoint pen – the one with the American flag on it. He drew a curve on a napkin for an attentive Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. President-to-be Gerald Ford was there too.


“Not to oversimplify, but couldn’t we oversimplify the way taxes are calculated?,” he said. “Mind if I use yer napkin?”


“Two axes, OK? The one going up? That’s all the revenues for the government. Then.. crap! Pencil broke. could you pass me that one? Then, across the page are tax rates, OK?”

“See on the left where I put the zero? That’s where we show how much revenue we make if we don’t charge any taxes.”

“Dick? You’re a smart guy, how much would that be?”


“EXACTLY! There wouldn’t BE any revenues because the tax rate is ZERO! Now look at the other extreme. What if we charge a hundred percent taxes? What then?”


“Isn’t that a little edgy?”

“EXACTLY, Dick! Would you (or any Republican you know) go to work every day, knowing you don’t get to keep a penny?”

“How much power would I have?”

“Forget power, Rumsfeld. You’re overcomplicating things. This is a THOUGHT experiment.”

“No power?”

“Do you see power along that axis? Try to focus. OK, man?”

Rumsfeld adjusted his tie.

“So. You’re with me, so far, right? 100% taxation – government revenues go to zero. Same with 0%. “In between there’s a curve. It rises up and then it falls back down. We’ll label the peak ‘Equilibrium’. Ok?”

“This is a nice  SCIENTIFIC way to understand tax policy AND you will note that tax rates to the right of curve are kinda counterproductive. If you increase the rate, revenues go down. Lower the rates, and revenues go up. And I’ll TELL you something, gentlemen, I’m p-r-e-t-t-y sure we’re on the right hand side of that curve.”

Cheney raised his hand.

“Don’t DO that!”


“Raise your HAND! You’re the Ambassador to NATO. You don’t raise your hand. You just talk.”

“OK,” Cheney said, lowering his hand.

“So, you’re saying we could LOWER the tax rate and make a profit on the deal?”

“I don’t believe I would call it that.”

“You’re SAYING that we can project power ALL over the third world, scare the URINE out of Russia, finally order some decent o-rings for the Space Shuttle and still reduce the deficit at the end of the year? All by LOWERING the tax rate?

“Only a napkin. Let’s not get TOO carried away.”

“This is sensational,” Rumsfeld chimed in. Wait’ll the Bushes hear about this one.

“Look, this is a little simplistic.”

“Which is perfect, really. You don’t WANT to have Congress deal with anything complicated. Been there. Regretted that.”

At the end of the meeting, the three prominent officials went away feeling inspired.

The professor wanted to get his napkin back.

MISTERScienceAintSoBad realizes that “Laffer’s Curve” can’t go up against Einstein’s  refined thought experiments.  “The Curve” was a little more back-of-the-napkin. Trying to make a point, not a revolution.

And it oversimplifies who pays taxes and how. The extreme behaviors (100% and 0%) are just assumptions which SOUND right but might not BE right.

The whole thing’s a little fuzzy.  What’s the time frame? Would a change in tax rates have an effect in two years? Twenty years? How would we sort that out? What about all the different tax brackets? And the corporations? And the nonprofits? And the underground economies?

However. I’ve heard crazier ideas. I’ve COME UP with crazier ideas.

So COULD the government reduce taxes and make more money?

Best we can tell – and with profound regrets – it is probably UNlikely that (in most conditions) decreasing taxes’ll boost tax collections.

NOBODY’S beyond suspicion where there’s a potential political agenda, but the independent Center On Budget and Policy Priorities looked at this four years ago and pissed off a lot of people by failing to find evidence for a negative correlation between tax rates and collections. This seems consistent with other serious scholarship.


Couple of notes:

My reportage might be a little off when it comes to the above conversations where fun trumps accuracy. But the curve is Laffer’s (who concedes its origins go back to Keynes and, even, Khaldun). And, while MISTERScienceAintSoBad, might not be able to resist spicing up some verbiage, he would never tinker with the facts themselves.  Evidence RULES!

And attribution for the cartoon image (with modified text): Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Financial Aid For Hearing Aids (and don’t YELL at me!)

Posted by on Friday, 12 February, 2010


Hearing Aid Help

You’re right.

Science Ain’t So Bad is a blog about science. And technology. And where you find the bucks to pay for hearing aids isn’t the big research issue of the century.

But I’m the writer guy and I get to decide. And DAMN this is a good thing to tell people about. So don’t yell at me.

I got my rights!

So, as I was saying, a VERY non-scientific and technical matter of GREAT interest to those of you who wear or need hearing aids is how do you pay for the durn things. The good ones are expensive as hell and, mostly, they’re not covered by your health plan.

The Better Hearing Institute has published a comprehensive “Guide To Financial Assistance for Hearing Aids“. And MISTER ScienceAintSoBad thinks that is mighty cool!

Even if it DOES leave you unfulfilled about the latest results from the Large Hadron Particle Collider.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 10 and no apologies for it.

Disgruntled Burglars Quitting The Trade. Can’t Compete.

Posted by on Wednesday, 10 February, 2010

What NEXT?

Criminology: Economics Of Burglary.

According to James Treadwell’s research (University of Leicester), global price pressures – particularly “cheap labor in China” – are RUINING it for decent burglars in the UK.

Commodity pricing in consumer goods such as DVD players has gotten so crappy that you can’t even fence a good home entertainment system anymore and embittered former second story guys are turning to a life of street crime.

ScienceAintSoBadRating = 6 (Good entertainment value. Not so sure about the science).

Economics. Dismal Science?

Posted by on Monday, 30 March, 2009

BlastingThruDgDr copyDr. Bella Luna, World Economics Chair at the London School of E.

DNA shmee-n-a. Particles shmarticles. This is the year of the buck.

Biology, physics, all the rest are taking a back seat to economics this year. The “Dismal Science” is crowding everything out as the public tries to figure out how we got into this “mess” and how we get out.

Economics. That’s a science right? Dismal. But science?

To answer this vexing and, sometimes, elusive question, I talked with someone who should know. When you think of science, who do you think of first? Bella Luna, of course. London School of E. Dr. Luna’s work, “The Cosmological Constant of The Political Economy”, is still regarded as the seminal work in this field. I asked Dr. Luna for a few minutes of her time.

“Ugh! You want to cover economics on a blog about science?”

“No huh? So economics doesn’t qualify as serious science?”

“It does.”

“It DOES?”

“Sure. A scientific proposition merely has to be capable of being proven false. That applies. There’re plenty of assertions about economics that can be shown to be wrong. In fact, practically all of them are wrong.” Dr. Luna, searching in her drawer for a grooming comb, blinked at me. “They call it dismal because we can’t DO much about the big stuff like the economy. ”

“ECONOMICS can’t do anything about the ECONOMY?”

“Can meteorologists do anything about the weather? Do we call weather forecasting the dismal science? Heck no. Because they’re on TV all the time with blond hair and neat blazers. And they have interactive maps. ”

“But if economists can’t do anything about the economy, what good are they?”

“What good are cosmologists? In fact, what good is this crappy blog of yours? ”

Dr. Luna was getting a little heated up so I thanked her for her time and said we would pick up this matter another time.

Tentative conclusion: Economics shouldn’t be called the dismal science anymore.

Maybe the useless science.


A long-enduring metaphor for the unachievable has always been “Finding a cure for cancer”. And the hallmarks of cancer, itself, are its abilities to spread and to overcome our meager drugs. Of course, another hallmark of cancer, is how easily our hopes rise and fall when a new promising “breakthrough” occurs. Still, I will risk that by calling attention to two stunning developments.
Come on tumor. Make my day! , Critical understanding of metastasis .


This is probably SO 2001, but evidently we still don’t have much scientific basis for evaluating buildings . Which reminds me, I will shortly, publish our solution for high rise evacuation (if anyone cares anymore about such things).