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Ad hominem ad nauseam

February 21st, 2006

The comments thread lately has been full of what might be called the “”ad hominem fallacy” fallacy”. This is the fallacy that, because a logical syllogism is equally valid or invalid no matter who propounds it, evidence in favour of a judgement about a matter of fact should be treated the same no matter who puts it forward. But classical syllogistic logic has essentially nothing to say in relation to reasoning about the plausibilty of judgements based on evidence.

No one sensible takes this idea seriously when, for example, money is at stake. A member of a board of directors who has a financial interest in a proposal is expected to declare it and withdraw from the discussion for example. By contrast, believers in the “ad hominem fallacy” fallacy would suggest that the director’s arguments were just as valid as anyone else’s, and they do not need to declare their interest before taking part in the discussion (though they should not vote).

The problems with conflict of interest are twofold. First, it is usually impossible to check every factual claim made by someone putting an argument. Second, even if all the facts asserted in support of some position are verifiable, they may have been selected (cherry-picked) to favour a case, while facts pointing the other way have been ignored. If you’re willing to go to the trouble of fully informing yourself about the topic using independent sources evidence from interested sources is redundant, and if not, it’s unreliable.

I had a lengthy go at this here, and for convenience I’ve reposted it over the fold.

There’s more from Don Arthur , Tim Lambert and Cathy Young

A question that’s often raised in relation to public policy issues involving science is whether conflicts of interest matter. For example, does it matter if scientists who publish reports suggesting that the dangers of smoking are overstated turn out to be funded by tobacco companies? Common sense suggests that it matters, but a lot of commentators, often with a vague recollection of classes in elementary logic, suggest that this is an ad hominem criticism and that the only thing that is relevant is the argument, not who makes it. You can see a defence of this position from Elizabeth Whelan at Spiked here[1] (hat tip, Jennifer Marohasy in the comments to this interesitng Catallaxy post on values and science.

I’ll argue that common sense is right here.

As an illustration, suppose you are considering buying a new car, and you come across an “independent non-profit” site called “Car Buyers Guide”, which gives advice on models A and B. Here are some possible reasons the site might advance for buying A rather than B. Assume that you can confirm that all factual claims made are correct, but you don’t know anything about cars yourself.

1. The fuel required for model B is not available in Australia, so it cannot be driven here, unlike A. Therefore you should choose A

2. We consulted ten leading experts. All recommended A

3. We looked at ten different criteria and A was superior on each of them

If you rely exclusively on syllogistic logic you ought to find argument 1 convincing (with the auxiliary premise that a car that can be driven is always better than one that cannot). On the other had, reason 2 is a standard fallacy: an argument from authority. Reason three is also logically invalid; the fact that A is superior on some grounds does not mean that it is superior on most or all grounds.

In practice, though, syllogistic logic is not very helpful. Very few decisions can be supported by watertight logical arguments like 1. In practice, we ought to find reasons like 2 and 3 pretty convincing. Assuming that the 10 experts are selected at random from a suitable population, the probability that most experts actually favour B is less than 1 in 1000. And if the 10 criteria are selected sensibly, it’s highly unlikely that consideration of omitted criteria will change the balance.

You can either accept this kind of reasoning or become an expert on the subject yourself. Since the latter course is feasible in only a few cases, inevitably you have to rely on the former most of the time.

Now suppose you find that the “Car Buyers Guide” is actually funded by the makers of Model A. Reason 1 is still logically valid and compelling. But reasons 2 and 3 now have very little force. Unless experts unanimously favour B, it shouldn’t be hard to line up 10 who favor A (or even to induce some who are neutral to endorse A). And similarly, it’s nearly always possible to find some criteria on which one option is better.

Exactly the same issues arise in relation to the dangers (or safety) of smoking. The evidence here is statistical, so if you’re looking for logical certainty you won’t find it. And it’s always possible to find some benefits from smoking and some qualified people willing to give a low estimate of risks. But if you rely on the general judgement of independent experts, you’ll reach the conclusion that smoking (direct or passive) is likely to shorten your life and damage your health.

The counterargument, from Whelan and others is that “All scientists have personal ideologies”, and therefore that scientific work should be evaluated on its merits, without regard to source. This sounds appealing until we ask the question “evaluated by whom?” The only people who can usefully do the evaluation are qualified scientists and the only way we can rely on their evaluation is if we believe them to be free of conflicts of interests.

If you accept Whelan’s argument, you end up in a position of complete agnosticism about anything you can’t know from direct experience. She denies this, saying that “If the Tobacco Institute had been funded by the Easter Bunny, its pronouncements would still have been scientifically outrageous, because the controversy had long since ended over whether cigarettes are the primary cause of premature, preventable death ” but, by definition, controversy only ends when one side gives up. (The exposure of the fact that most of the defenders of the safety of smoking were recipients of tobacco money was one of the things that helped induce them to give up.)

As far as the relevant scientific communities are concerned the controversy over evolution has ended and the controversy about climate change has resolved most of the key issues (for example, that warming is taking place and that human activity is a contributor), as has the controversy about the safety of consuming GM foods, but that doesn’t stop people claiming otherwise. And the tobacco lobby only retreated from the glaringly false claim that smoking is harmless to the claim (absurd if you accept that direct smoking causes cancer, but harder to disprove) that passive smoking is harmless. Unless you want to become an expert in biology, geology, climate science, clinical medicine and statisics, among other disciplines, you’ll never be able to resolve these disputes without relying, at some point, on expert judgement.

Obviously, there’s an element of circularity here. We not only have to trust scientists to give us the best advice, but we also have to trust them to tell us who the relevant scientists are. The big argument for accepting this is the undeniable success of the scientific enterprise as a whole, and its demonstrated capacity for correcting error. This can be contrasted with the demonstrated capacity of interest groups to maintain propositions that suit their interests in the face of strong, indeed overwhelming, evidence to the contrary.

fn1. For the fascinating history of Spiked see this Jason Soon post. For Whelan’s own background see Sourcewatch.

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  1. Waratah
    February 21st, 2006 at 20:16 | #1

    “by definition, controversy only ends when one side gives up” – incumbents are durable, power begets power, they have staying power.

    When feeling confused, sleep on it and then go with your gut:
    http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060213/full/060213-9.html

  2. February 21st, 2006 at 21:55 | #2

    Great article. I enjoyed reading it.

  3. James Farrell
    February 22nd, 2006 at 00:23 | #3

    Definitive.

  4. Steve Munn
    February 22nd, 2006 at 01:09 | #4

    Excellent point well made PrQ.

  5. Terje Petersen
    February 22nd, 2006 at 03:22 | #5

    I think that Johns rule of thumb is fair enough in so far as it places trust in the institution of science over the long term. However whilst in some black and white areas we can say that science mostly seem to get it right in the end, any claim that it gets the grey bits right very frequently or even quickly is harder to verify. It is easier to have confidence in the science once the controversy dies down.

    You can either accept this kind of reasoning or become an expert on the subject yourself. Since the latter course is feasible in only a few cases, inevitably you have to rely on the former most of the time.

    I think that you can do both. You can accept the view of the scientific majority and then follow up and become more expert yourself. Personally the more expert I become in a product range the more I find recommendatons given in buyers guides tainted by the ideological bias and practical experience of the author. And the more I realise that such decisions are not as simple as black and white. I still read buyers guides however.

    If a field is controversial and I care about it then I find that I need some expertise of my own before I am comfortable trusting the majority position (or any other position).

    Being an expert in a given field (and giving advice to those that are not) often means being aware of the issues, being aware of the controversies and alternate expert view points, being aware of your own ideological bias and coping with the ambiguities.

    When I talk to people with a high level of economic literacy I don’t qualify the economic model I believe in by stating that there are other opinions. However when I talk to complete novices (friends at the pub usually) I always try to qualify my opinions by explaining that economics has multiple schools of thought and the one I adhere to is not the dominant school of thought. In other words I try to do some justice to those experts who would disagree with me.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. I am not claiming any special status as an economic expert but I think I know more about the topic than the average guy in the street.

  6. Seeker
    February 22nd, 2006 at 06:13 | #6

    I am not unfamiliar with Spiked’s history, ideology and modus operandi, and I have no respect for them whatsoever. I don’t have the time for a long post, but I will say that they are not pro-science as such, they just see science and technology as a means to power.

    Take anything they say with a mountain of salt.

  7. Andrew
    February 22nd, 2006 at 08:05 | #7

    “You can either accept this kind of reasoning or become an expert on the subject yourself. Since the latter course is feasible in only a few cases, inevitably you have to rely on the former most of the time.”

    An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.

    A generalist is someone who knows less and less about more and more until he knows absolutely nothing about everything.

  8. harry clarke
    February 22nd, 2006 at 08:34 | #8

    I find it difficult to make judgements about people’s views that support a particular position when (i) that support yields them a private benefit but (ii) I think the people are possibly right.

    e.g. school teachers favouring smaller class sizes

    Otherwise I lost some of the ‘depth’ in the argument as presented. People have interests and these interests consciously and unconsciouly drive their views. We respond to this automatically with a certain skepticism that is conditioned by their reputation and the ‘verbal’/'nonverbal’ signals they provide. We don’t apply laws of logic alone but see these laws as competing with self-interest.

  9. February 22nd, 2006 at 08:57 | #9

    If there is plenty of time available to subject all the arguments to scrutiny then you could accept arguments from vested interests on a par with others, but typically in a board or committee meeting there is a need for a quick decision.

    The problem is the time it takes to get on top of an issue to a point where a person’s opinion is worth a pinch of the proverbial. Usually when you move from one field of research to another you find out that most of the things you assumed at the start turn out to be wrong to a greater or lesser extent unless you have been incredibly lucky in your previous contacts and informants.

  10. Waratah
    February 22nd, 2006 at 09:01 | #10

    On this topic, I just came across this: Smoke Rings. “The tobacco industry duped both academic journals and the media”. Quite a read!

    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/02/07/smoke-rings/

  11. Terje Petersen
    February 22nd, 2006 at 11:52 | #11

    e.g. school teachers favouring smaller class sizes

    This conflict of interest has concerned me for some time. Smaller class sizes leads to:-

    1. Less work for teachers.
    2. Greater demand for teachers.
    3. A better wage negotiation position for teachers.

    Imagine however trying to have a debate about education whilst excluding teachers due to a conflict of interest.

    I had read some time ago that international studies of school performance found almost no correlation between smaller class sizes and student outcomes. However I am not an expert on the topic.

    I have next to no time for the argument that schools should conceal from the public their performance relative to other schools.

  12. jquiggin
    February 22nd, 2006 at 12:06 | #12

    Terje, this claim is pretty much the opposite of what is usually said about unions, which is that they want to raise wages and restrict entry. Unless you think of the education budget as perfectly elastic, it’s pretty obvious that reducing class sizes and hiring more teachers is going to make it harder to raise the wages of existing teachers.

    And the view that smaller classes make for less work only really makes sense in a context where they are actually beneficial in some way.

    I’ve written a fair bit on the class size issue and will try to post a link soon.

  13. Terje Petersen
    February 22nd, 2006 at 12:31 | #13

    I have never heard the term “elastic” applied to a government budget. Perhaps you can enlighten me if the term does have application in this context.

    Reduced class sizes, if legislated for by government, would necessitate an increase in demand for teachers (assuming a fixed number of students). That is an inescapable consequnce of basic arithmetic. The price question then would be entirely about the elasticity of supply.

    If the supply of teachers is elastic there would be only a slight wage increase. If the supply of teachers was inelastic there would be a large increase in wages. Either way there is going to be a wage increase. If there is not then the government will ultimately fail to deliver smaller classes.

    Also a government publicly commited to improved education that cuts class sizes it unlikely to argue for a reduction in teachers wages. So teachers have very little downside if they win the argument for smaller classes.

    Personally I would think that an upfront simple policy of higher wages for teachers would in the long term deliver more in the way of student outcomes than smaller classes.

    You haven’t convinced me that teachers are conflicted in this debate.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. Now waiting on two things from JQ.

    a) Is Kyoto low benefit.
    b) Are teachers conflicted in the smaller class size debate.

  14. Terje Petersen
    February 22nd, 2006 at 17:54 | #14

    You haven’t convinced me that teachers are conflicted in this debate.

    Of course I meant that you haven’t convinced me that teachers are not conflicted in this debate.

  15. Waratah
    February 22nd, 2006 at 18:52 | #15

    Terje what leads you to conclude that a simple policy of higher wages for teachers would by itself improve learning outcomes? Is there any logic or law underpinning that, eg pay more peanuts, get fatter monkeys?

  16. Terje Petersen
    February 22nd, 2006 at 19:05 | #16

    I have no evidence and it is merely a side issue anyway not central to my main point. But what do you think would happen in the long term to the quality of teachers if we paid teachers less?

  17. James Farrell
    February 22nd, 2006 at 19:08 | #17

    Terje

    I’m don’t want to see this thread derailed totally, but someone needs to pull you up on your claim that small classes mean less work for teachers.

    Teachers say they want smaller classes so they can achieve better results with the same amount of work, not so that they can do less work. If there is evidence that they do in fact get better results by some measure, then there is no basis for asserting they would do less work. So let’s see some evidence before we jump to conclusions. (There’s nothing to stop you doing some work on this yourself, by the way, and posting it in Weekend Reflections. John is not the NBER.)

    On the other hand, if by less work you simply mean less students, then just say that, if you must state the obvious.

    On the elasticity thing, John wasn’t using the word in a technical sense. He just meant that governments won’t increase education budgets in proportion to the increase in teachers. They’ll economise in various other ways, including by giving teachers smaller pay rises than they otherwise would. So even if a decrease in class sizes does aggravate the shortage of teachers (as it’s already doing in NSW and Victoria), the existing teachers are not well placed to take advantage of the fact.

  18. Terje Petersen
    February 22nd, 2006 at 20:25 | #18

    James,

    I have never heard a teacher claim that they want smaller classes so they can do less work. However there is no quarantee that a lighter workload in terms of quantity will lead to an increase in effort towards quality. They may just ease off and enjoy the reduced workload. In reality I imagine that some teachers would apply themselves to quality and some would just ease off.

    In any case it is getting off topic. The issue is not whether teachers could improve results with smaller classes but whether they have a vested interest in the debate. Are they conceptually any different to the oil company executive that wants to have a say about the future of energy policy. Do teachers have a monopoly on virtue that makes them immune to self interest?

    Perhaps John was using the word “elasticity” in a non technical manner. However in economics it is a pretty specific concept. In any case he is a big boy and I think he is more than capable of answering for himself on this matter.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  19. Willis Eschenbach
    February 22nd, 2006 at 20:43 | #19

    Seems to me that John, and everyone else, is badly conflating two very separate ideas here.

    One is an “ad-hominem” attack, which is Latin meaning attacking “the man”, rather than attacking the idea the man is espousing.

    The other is a conflict of interest, in particular an undeclared or hidden conflict of interest.

    I think we can all agree that an ad hominem attack is valueless. If we are discussing economics, saying “Don’t believe that guy’s economic argument, he’s a black man, what would he know” is an ad hominem attack. Clearly, this type of attack just shows that the attacker is getting desperate, and has nothing substantial to say.

    A conflict of interest is another matter entirely, and a significant matter. I don’t have any regarding global warming, never made a dime from it and I own no stock in the globe. Or in warming.

    One often overlooked conflict of interest is pinning your career on an issue like AGW. Some people’s whole job depends on the “existence” of AGW. How much time are they likely to spend trying to prove AGW doesn’t exist?

    It’s a classic scientific occupational conflict of interest, and this conflict is not unique to AGW by any means. It’s one of the reasons that scientific ideas are slow to change, because people have staked their reputations and careers on some idea, and stand to lose it all if that idea is shown to be wrong … so they spend no time trying to disprove it, and shore it up at every opportunity, whether it is right or wrong.

    I do not think, however, that this should disqualify someone’s results, because it’s not a hidden conflict. We all know Jim Hansen would lose big if AGW turns out to be a dud, it’s just part of the equation. And the same is true if someone is being paid full time by Mobil as their resident climate change scientist. He will have as big a conflict of interest as Jim Hansen has, only in the other direction. Again, because it is not hidden, it does not disqualify his results, we expect it.

    The case is less conflicting if, say, a man took a grant of $25,000 from Mobil two years ago to look at a particular question. While that may or may not affect their study of the question, it will likely have no effect on their work this year, which is funded by someone else entirely.

    In general, while none of us can be an expert on a whole lot of subjects, climate science demands a certain generality because the subject is so broad (oceanography, atmospheric science, fluid relationships, energy calculations, chemisty of CO2, constructal laws, thermodynamics, etc., etc.). Because of this, many scientific papers in the climate field are written to be readily accessible to the non-specialist. Indeed, magazines like Science and Nature insist that their articles be pitched for accessibility beyond a narrow field.

    I find that, with a close reading of most climate papers, and some research and study, including looking at other people’s commentary on the paper, I can make a reasonable judgement whether there are gaping holes in the paper. I re-run the numbers, apply the smell test, examine the data, and draw my conclusions.

    As far as possible, my conclusions will not be based on whether the author got a $25,000 grant from that known supporter of AGW opponents, Mobil, or whether he got a $25,000 grant from that known supporter of AGW believers, the NSF … these, after all, are known conflicts.

    Nor will these conclusions be based on whether the author of the paper has been wrong in the past. No one is always right.

    Nor will these conclusions be based on whether the author is known to use shonky data, poor practices, and incorrect statistics … but if that is the case, it will make me examine those aspects of the new paper much more closely.

    In other words, I would never conclude that a new paper by Michael Mann is wrong because his work has been so poor in the past, and becase he would lose big if AGW is proven wrong, that’s ad hominem … I just look at the new work that much harder. It may be that his new work is 100% correct and flawless, in which case I’ll be the first to say so.

    And to the best of my ability, I will make that judgement based on what his paper says, and not who wrote it.

    Using an ad-hominem argument to decide on whether to believe a study is nothing but intellectual laziness. Dig into the meat of it and see what it says. If you don’t have time or expertise to do that, read what others who have dug into the meat of it say (try to include both supporters and critics), but don’t just go “He got money from [insert your choice of Greenpeace/Mobil/NSF/Cato Institute/Sierra Club/whoever], can’t believe him” … that’s ad-hominem.

    w.

  20. jquiggin
    February 22nd, 2006 at 20:45 | #20

    My main point, Terje, is that arguing for smaller classes is against the interest of current teachers. This is obvious when you think about it, and I’ve spelt it out above.

    The workload point is trickier and needs to be expressed in terms of marginal rates of substitution. In my experience, no-one, including most professional economists, gets this kind of argument, but that just reinforces the point of a previous thread. Assume teachers do some actual teaching and some crowd control, with a given marginal rate of substitution for effort. If you reduce the need for crowd control, you should see some additional teaching as well as some reduction in effort. For class sizes to make no difference, they have to make no difference on all margins, including the effort cost of crowd control.

  21. James Farrell
    February 22nd, 2006 at 21:52 | #21

    ‘… he is a big boy and I think he is more than capable of answering for himself on this matter.’

    An ill-mannered comment, Terje. This is an open discussion. People answer questions directed to others (as long as they’re not personal ones), and clarify other people’s remarks, all the time.

  22. Terje Petersen
    February 23rd, 2006 at 00:15 | #22

    Assume teachers do some actual teaching and some crowd control, with a given marginal rate of substitution for effort. If you reduce the need for crowd control, you should see some additional teaching as well as some reduction in effort. For class sizes to make no difference, they have to make no difference on all margins, including the effort cost of crowd control.

    I have marked part of your quote in bold. That section implies two things:-

    a) Smaller classes will yield some improvement in quality.
    b) Smaller classes will yield some reduction in teaching effort.

    Point (a) is interesting but not central to the discussion about whether teachers come to the debate with a conflict of interest. Point (b) reveals that you agree with the first conflict of interest that I initially stated.

    My main point, Terje, is that arguing for smaller classes is against the interest of current teachers. This is obvious when you think about it, and I’ve spelt it out above.

    It is obvious to me that the exact opposite is true. And I have thought about it. Perhaps if I lay out my thinking in some more detail you can help me to see where I am going wrong in my thinking.

    Let me go through what you said originally more systematically to try and uncover (and maybe resolve) the specific point of disagreement. Here it goes with what you originally said above:-

    Terje, this claim is pretty much the opposite of what is usually said about unions, which is that they want to raise wages and restrict entry.

    My claim is that smaller class sizes will (as revealed by my basic economic analysis) lead to higher wages. Hence there is no inconsistency between my economic analysis of smaller classes and the usual accusation made against unions with regards to wanting higher wages. Now maybe my economic analysis was flawed, however you have not refuted it.

    It is true that unions are often accused of wanting to restrict access but that is really just a case of achieving a wage increase by reduces supply. The fact that smaller class sizes achieves a wage increase by increased demand is not inconsistent with the basic self interest motive.

    Unless you think of the education budget as perfectly elastic, it’s pretty obvious that reducing class sizes and hiring more teachers is going to make it harder to raise the wages of existing teachers.

    It is not obvious to me. Reducing class sizes means that more teachers are needed.

    Lets say that there are 3 million students in the nation and 30 students in each class. That means we are commited to buying the services of 100,000 teachers. Now lets say we reduce class size to 20 students. Now we are commited to buying the services of 150,000 teachers.

    So demand for teachers rises from 100,000 to 150,000 in response to this policy change. Now if supply of teachers is inelastic there will need to be a big price rise to buy more teachers. And if the supply is elastic then there will need to be a small price rise to buy more teachers. Either way it leads to a wage rise for teachers which creates a conflict of interest.

    Now it is true that we could pay the new teachers more than the existing teachers, but for a multitude of reasons it seems highly unlikely that this would ever eventuate. So in practice all teachers (new and existing) would experience upward pressure on their wages.

    You seem to assume that the education budget would remain static. However teachers who argue for smaller classes expect it to be achieved by an increased education budget paid for by either higher taxes or a change in government spending priority. If they truely believed that additional teachers were going to be paid for by reducing the wages of existing teachers then of course they would see it as contrary to their interests. However I don’t have any reason to think this is what they believe or advocate.

    Let me summarise my position:-

    1. I claim that a policy of smaller classes will due to market forces (supply and demand) necessitate higher teachers wages. Without higher wages the policy would fail. You have not refuted the logic of this claim.

    2. I claim that in practice it is unlikely that the higher wages would be paid only to new teachers.

    3. I claim that these higher wages give rise to a conflict of interest for existing teachers that participate in debates about class sizes.

    4. I claim that in practice teachers do not evisage a government implementing a policy of smaller class sizes and paying for it out of the existing budget allocation. They argue for a bigger education budget to fund smaller classes.

    5. I do not claim that smaller classes is a bad thing.

    6. I do not claim that teachers should be excluded from any discussion about class sizes.

    7. I do not claim that teachers are bad people or any less genereous than other members of the general population.

    Now if I am “obviously” wrong I would appreciate if you could help me find the flaw in my logic.

  23. Terje Petersen
    February 23rd, 2006 at 00:57 | #23

    An ill-mannered comment, Terje. This is an open discussion.

    No offense intended. I apologise for any caused.

  24. James Farrell
    February 23rd, 2006 at 02:06 | #24

    Accepted. Now I’ll push my luck a little and butt in again.

    You need to be a bit cautious in applying supply and demand analysis in a case like this, where we are essentially dealing with a bilateral monopoly. Given that there are teacher shortages in many areas, supply is an important underlying factor. But when it comes to demand, we are talking about a buyer with overwhelming market power and a final product that is not sold in a commercial market.

    Of course the education budget is not static, and you may be right that it would be increased to pay for more teachers. But it seems unlikely to me that state governments could find the money to increase teacher numbers and fund pay rises at the same time. No one is saying that they would actually cut teachers’ pay – indeed they would still raise it to some extent in the long term in line with average earnings – but they would still raise it less than if they didn’t reduce class sizes.

    You think differently. In any case, the real issue, as you see it, is how the teachers think. Do they perceive the situation your way or mine? If the teachers’ unions are rational and well informed, it depends on how they expect state cabinets to budget in the coming years. But at this point we can only speculate, so that part of the issue won’t be resolved on this thread.

    In the meantime, you and I will make our own judgements about whether there is a conflict of interest, and how cautious we need to be in accepting teachers’ claims about class sizes at face value. And as long as advocates of small classes continue to disclose their affiliations, we’ll know when to put on our chosen gas masks.

  25. Willis Eschenbach
    February 23rd, 2006 at 07:48 | #25

    JQ, for the first time on this blog, my comment is marked “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

    Which is fine, I don’t have any problem with that, as the comment is not inflammatory (or ad hominem) …

    I was curious, however, as to what your moderation policies were, how come they kicked in at this point, and what is the normal time for a comment to get moderated?

    Many thanks,

    w.

  26. jquiggin
    February 23rd, 2006 at 07:59 | #26

    Willis, most moderation including this is done by my antispam filters. The comments get posted when I get time to do a manual check.

  27. conrad
    February 23rd, 2006 at 08:16 | #27

    This is an interesting discussion.

    I have an obvservation on it, in that if James & John are correct in that decreasing class sizes leads to lower wage rises for teachers due to overall restrictions of money in the system, then it may in fact cause teaching performance to worsen. In this case, there will be further disinsentives for people to become and remain teachers, and hence the only way to get enough teachers would be to lower the standard of teachers employed or teachers to be trained.

    Perhaps this is one reason why such minimal effects of class size reductions within relatively restricted ranges has been found — because the standards of teachers needs to be lowered to get enough of them.

  28. Willis Eschenbach
    February 23rd, 2006 at 08:49 | #28

    Thanks, John, that’s what I figured …

    w.

  29. Simonjm
    February 23rd, 2006 at 09:07 | #29

    The Weinberg Group and manufacturing uncertainty

    http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/2/22/13112/6379

    The marketing proposal to DuPont about PFOA (PDF) (a dangerous chemical used to make Teflon) that Paul D. Thacker got his hands on is pretty stunning. Among other things, it says:

    “[W]e will harness, focus and involve the scientific and intellectual capital of our company with one goal in mind — creating the outcome our client desires. … This would include facilitating the publication of papers and articles dispelling the alleged nexus between PFOA and teratogenicity as well as other claimed harm.”

    Enough said don’t you think.

    I’d like to know from those who are beating up the ad homs claims on the pro-business lobbyists whether they think that a minister or judge should step aside from a situation where they have a financial conflict of interest or whether from their reasoning they have as much right to sit in as financial interest has no bearing on such matters?

  30. Terje Petersen
    February 23rd, 2006 at 12:13 | #30

    Of course the education budget is not static, and you may be right that it would be increased to pay for more teachers. But it seems unlikely to me that state governments could find the money to increase teacher numbers and fund pay rises at the same time.

    It seems unlikely to me also. Which would explain why they don’t seem to have a policy of smaller classes. If they did adopt such a policy then I think they would either have to find the funds for across the board wage rises, plus the funds for extra teachers or else they would simply fail in their endeavour to create smaller classes.

    In the meantime, you and I will make our own judgements about whether there is a conflict of interest, and how cautious we need to be in accepting teachers’ claims about class sizes at face value. And as long as advocates of small classes continue to disclose their affiliations, we’ll know when to put on our chosen gas masks.

    I agree with you on this final point. However I also take the view that in any debate about fossil fuels or global warming we should be cautious but not exclusionary. Everybody should be admitted to the debate and their evidence or arguments should be given due consideration. Our caution should not lead us to discard the evidence or arguments that they present but rather it should sharpen our attention to detail.

    John appears to argue that in some debates (eg global warming debate) we can simply discard the arguments and ideas of some people based on who they are. This seems unreasonable to me. It would be like me (with my views about teachers conflict of interest on class size) saying that I will ignore all arguments on the matter put by people from within the profession. This does not open up dialogue and discussion but rather it stifles debate.

    In an economic discussion it would be like rejecting a point of argument merely because the original proponent or author was (take your pick) Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Bob Geldof, Jude Wanniski, Peter Saunders, John Quiggin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Maynard Keynes or Peter Costello.

    I can’t speak to motive but it looked to me in the global warming discussions that John Quiggin was stifling debate by rejecting all arguments that originated from sources that did not meet with his approval. He is entitled to be cynical about sources however to reject attemps at dialogue on certain matters simple because of sources seems very dogmatic. It is his certainly his right to abstain from dialogue but it does not impress, especially when he leads of with disparaging remarks.

  31. Simonjm
    February 23rd, 2006 at 13:25 | #31

    Terje do you think Creationists or Intelligent Design supporters should be welcome in a science curriculum debate?

    What about the local homeopath on national health debates?

    If not is that stifling debate?

    Do you think a healthy debate could be acheived with a complete open door policy regarding who and what could be entered as evidence or authority?

    Should we take the time – & often expense-to look thoroughly through the science of the ‘marketing’ company work from my preceeding post and give them equal footing with independent and peer reviewed work?

    Ad hom’s and the fallcy from authority are great in isolation, but try living in the real world without knowledge from authority or no conflict of interest
    criterion and see how far you would get.

    Also could you answer my question on conflict of interest point?

  32. avaroo
    February 23rd, 2006 at 14:01 | #32

    Who would be example of a “creationist”? A known person, please.

  33. Simonjm
    February 23rd, 2006 at 15:06 | #33

    Why?
    Don’t you think they exist?

  34. Chris C
    February 23rd, 2006 at 15:16 | #34

    Its not a question of whether they exist or not – its more a question of whether they evolved from even less intelligent life or were placed here by God!

    But to answer avaroos question, I would say:
    1) All the Popes;
    2) George W Bush;
    3) Whoever wrote the Bible;
    4) The guy that let down Charles Darwin’s car tyres …. and when Charles gets his hands on him …

  35. Simonjm
    February 23rd, 2006 at 15:18 | #35

    I don’t think the current Pope has a problem with evolution nor believes in the young earth.

  36. Chris C
    February 23rd, 2006 at 15:30 | #36

    Sorry Simon – the list of names was just cobbled together to make a joke on “The Origin of Creationists”

  37. Simonjm
    February 23rd, 2006 at 16:03 | #37

    That’s Ok he may deny hundreds of thousands safe contraception indangering their lives and making it harder to escape poverty but at least he knows when to abide by the science at least on some subjects.

    BTW creationists are already a joke, no extra work needed.

  38. terje
    February 23rd, 2006 at 17:10 | #38

    The arguments put by creationists should be dealt with on their merit. As per the recent US court case that let them present their case.

  39. James Farrell
    February 23rd, 2006 at 18:03 | #39

    Conrad

    I think that’s quite possibel. Needless to say, I would like to see the education budget increase, so we can have smaller classes and pay good enough salaries to retain good teachers at the same time. The only snag is that then Terje would turn out to be right about something.

  40. Simonjm
    February 23rd, 2006 at 19:44 | #40

    Terje that’s just it they have been delt with on merit but it doesn’t just stop at the courts does it? They will try again and again and again.

    (BTW while we are on the courts how about in the next muder case we have joe blogs given equal time with the expert forensic witness we don’t want to be accused of the fallacy from authority;)

    Too bad others don’t have the money and time to go with your indulgence of letting any crack pot equal time in such debates over and over again.

    We would see science and policy bog down in the sort of merry-go-round here as recalcitrant trolls continue with the same of BS even though the umpire has moved on.

    Maybe we should open the smoking causes cancer debate again or re-examine the germ theory of disease? Hold the uni courses and the highschool text books we have to go over the evidence for evolution again because the local fundie isn’t happy we aren’t giving equal time to their humans walking with dinosaurs text books.

    Lastly I take it from your silence that you and others here would be quite happy to have a judge or polly with a financial stake in a decision to continue to have a say on the matter, confict of interest be damned.

    Hope you don’t mind the next time it involves your interets or money on the line.

    Cheers

  41. rapscallion
    February 24th, 2006 at 00:01 | #41

    Looks like people have moved on since the class sizes discussion.
    To backtrack, then, for a moment, if I may…

    I see one glaring fault in all the reasoning that has taken place, particularly by Terje.

    The assumption has been made that the employer would have to raise spending on education in order to fund the extra teachers needed for smaller classes and the higher wages to attract them. This assumption is of very dubious validity, as the experience of teachers shows.

    The employer will attempt (and invariably succeed, it seems) to accommodate higher wages by increasing workload. Terje and others have forgotten the other component in a teacher’s workload: the allotment of classes and extra duties. Any reduction in workload and increase in expenditure can be offset to a greater or lesser extent by increasing the number of lessons taught and the time teachers are expected to perform extra duties. This is, in fact, precisely what has happened in state education systems.

    Teachers have found themselves paying for what are, in effect, fairly marginal improvements in class sizes. Recent pay increases in Victoria, for example, have not altered the level of elasticity in budget expenditure, and this has resulted in schools being unable to fund pay increases from their ‘global budgets’ (a crude instrument disguising the weapon of Inelasticity) except by extracting more work that is unpaid and receives no time allowance.

    Declared inelasticity of expenditure is alive and well. It is the fulcrum around which class sizes, pay increases, new career structures and so on pivot.
    While class sizes today are marginally smaller than, say, 15 years ago, an unpromoted teacher is now teaching at least 23 periods of 50 minutes, as opposed to 21 or even fewer in the earlier period. Teachers are without any doubt working harder now than at any time in the past, but real wages, and pay relative to both the national average and median, have continued to decline.

    This says nothing about the question of the conflict of interest teachers might be deemed to have in calling for smaller class sizes, but is meant to remind those prone to supply/demand theorising that it is not necessarily applicable to this occupation. It doesn’t say anything either, about the educational benefits of class sizes small and large. Here, the educational researchers could have more cachet than teachers, but teachers should have more sympathy! If, as a lot of research indicates, smaller class sizes are educationally beneficial, they should not be resisted simply because of perceived conflict of interest. That’s not to say the teachers themselves should continue to ‘pay’ for them.

  42. avaroo
    February 24th, 2006 at 05:35 | #42

    So, are there no “creationists” then whose names can be given here as an example of such people?

  43. JK
    February 24th, 2006 at 06:33 | #43

    The Wheelan article is hooked around proposed NIH conflict of interest rules. If you don’t think they went too far then you’re pushing a very strong line indeed. Here is some of the criticism with which the rules were met:

    http://www.the-scientist.com/2005/5/23/10/1/
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A45377-2005Feb22?language=printer

    In the event the rules were somewhat scaled back. I would say that the NIH rule proposals were a good example of concern over conflict of interest going too far.

    “Cui bono” is good enough for everyday life or blog comments. But when we need to be rigourous then methodologically I would say that Stephen J. Gould explained things clearly in his book The Mismeasure of Man, about IQ. FIRST you show where the ideas are wrong, THEN you investigate the explanation for the errors.

    Also, I dislike the idea that interests should be kept out of politics. Politics is what allows teachers, capitalists and the rest of us to express their interests.

  44. Simonjm
    February 24th, 2006 at 09:19 | #44

    Avroo while I don’t like searching for obscure info but Australia + creation science will give you the local nutters on the 1st page.

    If you had bothered to give me a reason why it is so important for you to have a name maybe I would have obliged.

    One of these individuals was in a creation vs evolution blog debate at Margo Kingston’s I think it was the chemist.

    The fact that we had a Sci Honours and another with a Doctorate who had no trouble believing humans walked with dinosaurs and still be intelligent enough to get these higher academic qualifications gives a good indication just how powerful cognitive dissonance is and that people are quite capable of doing their day job but turning their brain off on other matters.

  45. avaroo
    February 24th, 2006 at 10:23 | #45

    Simon, I’m looking for a recognizable name here. I always hear about these “creationists” but who are they? Surely there is at least one that someone might have heard of.

  46. Simonjm
    February 24th, 2006 at 11:49 | #46

    Creation scientists with science backgrounds
    http://www.christiananswers.net/creation/people/home.html
    http://www.nwcreation.net/wiki/new/index.php?title=Creation_scientists

    Didn’t see any names that rang a bell but didn’t expect to in the same way I don’t know of any homeopaths, but doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    Does this prove anything?

    I don’t know any names behind Intelligent Design but that hasn’t stopped them trying sneak in the back door here.

    Humor-
    http://www.amiright.com/parody/60s/themonkees60.shtml

  47. The Lithophyte
    February 24th, 2006 at 12:26 | #47

    It seems to me that the key point here is not so much on the use of syllogistic logic, or whether ad hominem arguments are, or are not, valid, but rather what sort of argument is being proposed.

    A good many arguments I read here and elsewhere I would call rhetorical arguments (or misleading dialectics if the proponet is trying to sound knowledgable), and liberally peppered with false syllogisms. Why are they false? Because they falsely present incomplete propositions and conclusions as full sets.

    An example. The palaeo temperature hockey stick has been used to justify climate change due to the enhanced greenhouse effect, it fails to represent palaeo-temperature adequately, therefore the enhanced greenhouse effect is wrong.

    Any expert worth their salt, is interested in gaining sufficient knowledge on a subject so that they don’t present a partial set as representing the full monty. It takes some time and effort to establish such authority (and no time to lose it). Continual vigilence from an expert is required to ensure that readers and listeners can have high confidence in any statement they make. An expert should be their own strongest critic, and will often sound unsure because they are honest about communicating their uncertainties.

    Ad hominem responses are commonly made at those who present partial sets of information, to those who are paid to present partial sets of information, and falsely, to those who the arguer wished to besmirch. The best response is for all to declare their interests when making public/written statements and to rely on being able to communicate their expertise. This, of course, will not have any effect on those who will not listen. It is difficult not to attack the terminally biased on a personal basis, but then you never can be accused of playing the wo(man). Their false syllogisms, however, are fair game.

  48. Steve Munn
    February 24th, 2006 at 12:29 | #48

    Avaroo says: “Who would be example of a “creationistâ€?? A known person, please. ”

    One well known creationist is Roy Spencer. Roy is also a scientist and AGW denialist. See Tim Lambert http://timlambert.org/2005/08/tcs5/

  49. avaroo
    February 24th, 2006 at 12:42 | #49

    Roy Spencer?

    No one that might actually be a recognizable name?

  50. rdb
    February 24th, 2006 at 12:44 | #50

    Try Intelligent Design: ie Behe, Dembski or Creationists: ie Gish, Hovind.
    Recognizable names if you read Pharyngula.

  51. avaroo
    February 24th, 2006 at 12:45 | #51

    With all the fury expended against “creationists” I would think that at least one commonly recognized person could be identified as being part of this evil cabal. I can’t say that I’m surprised though.

  52. avaroo
    February 24th, 2006 at 12:46 | #52

    Not even ONE republican politician can be cited as an example of these “creationists”?

  53. Simonjm
    February 24th, 2006 at 15:56 | #53

    One isn’t needed when you school boards are so important in the US. Avroo you are aware of

    Court case may determine how evolution is taught in US
    http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8042

    Case closed…. Sort of
    http://www.thehumanist.org/humanistnews/index.php?mode=viewid&post_id=31#trackback

    (Terje notice the judge didn’t think much of the waste of resources which results from your open door policy?)

    Also within the judgement he doesn’t buy the line that ID & CS are separate.

    You want to have a name how about:

    Brendan Nelson suggests ‘intelligent design’ could be taught in school

    http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2005/s1447202.htm

  54. February 24th, 2006 at 16:19 | #54

    If you click through the Intel. Desig. link above you get Pat Buchanan, Bill Frist, John McCain.

    … Must not feed troll …

  55. Terje Petersen
    February 24th, 2006 at 20:46 | #55

    I’d like to know from those who are beating up the ad homs claims on the pro-business lobbyists whether they think that a minister or judge should step aside from a situation where they have a financial conflict of interest or whether from their reasoning they have as much right to sit in as financial interest has no bearing on such matters?

    There is a differnce between being one of many voices in a debate and being the final arbiter of a judgement or policy decision. I think teachers should be part of the class size debate but if they made the final policy decision I would be most worried. Likewise if a judge had a financial interest in the outcome of a case over which he/she had final judgement then that would be a serious concern.

  56. Simonjm
    February 24th, 2006 at 22:15 | #56

    Terje good point but even in situations of many voices they can still have a strong impact on the final judgment even if it isn’t their decision. (Remember I not banning anyone from a debate)

    Even so others could claim you have no grounds for your concern, there is no proof of any wrong doing and you should take what the judge or polly has to say on their merits.

    The principle is the same, the open door policy to judge it on its merits may sound good in theory but human nature being what it is isn’t it better to be a bit sceptical when a side has it’s bottom line to protect with no oversight with a side that is independent and is reviewed?

    (BTW do you think the tobacco scientists who said there was no link between tobacco and cancer did so because of the evidence or because that is what their bosses wanted?)

    Why have independent studies medical or otherwise if studies should be judged on their merit Terje? Is this a waste of time?

  57. avaroo
    February 25th, 2006 at 09:37 | #57

    “One isn’t needed”

    I’d still like one though. Just one example. Someone the average person would have heard of. Don’t know who Brendan Nelson is. If he were influential, I would guess that I would have heard of him.

  58. Hank
    February 25th, 2006 at 12:49 | #58

    Disclosure is essential — but insufficient.
    See the full text of the article
    “The Talking Cure” by James Surowiecki, New Yorker 2002-12-09

    He describes the academic research supporting his conclusion, which I quote below:

    The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town
    http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/?021209ta_talk_surowiecki (2 of 4) [12/6/2002

    “It has become a truism on Wall Street that conflicts of
    interest are unavoidable. In fact, most of them only seem so,
    because avoiding them makes it harder to get rich. That’s
    why full disclosure is suddenly so popular: it requires no
    substantive change. “People are grasping at the straw of
    disclosure because it allows them to have their cake and eat
    it, too,” Loewenstein says. Transparency is well and good,
    but accuracy and objectivity are even better. Wall Street
    doesn’t have to keep confessing its sins. It just has to stop
    committing them.” — James Surowiecki

  59. Terje Petersen
    February 25th, 2006 at 13:36 | #59

    isn’t it better to be a bit sceptical when a side has it’s bottom line to protect

    I have no problem with sceptical. I simple don’t think it is much of a debating point to say that someone has a vested interest therefore their arguments can be ignored. If during a debate you won’t listen to those with different interests to your own then what really is the point of debate?

    The reason debates such as global warming are topical is precisely because people do have an interest in the outcome of the debate. If they didn’t then they would not participate.

  60. Simonjm
    February 25th, 2006 at 14:18 | #60

    “Don’t know who Brendan Nelson is. ”

    Here Avroo I’ll help you out on this one.

    http://www.dest.gov.au/ministers/nelson/main.asp

  61. avaroo
    February 25th, 2006 at 14:25 | #61

    You seem to be missing my point. Brendan Nelson is not a well known person. What I’m asking for is the name of a well known creationist. With all the republican politicians around, surely you can come up with ONE name.

  62. avaroo
    February 25th, 2006 at 14:35 | #62

    Aren’t these people, creationists, supposed to be so awfully dangerous? Especially in the US, where they are allegedly so influential, if one is to take seriously much of what’s said about them, WHO are they? Name one whose name would be immediately and widely recognizable.

  63. Terje Petersen
    February 25th, 2006 at 14:43 | #63

    What do you mean Brendan Nelson is not well known?

  64. avaroo
    February 25th, 2006 at 14:47 | #64

    immediately and widely recognizable

  65. Terje Petersen
    February 26th, 2006 at 07:16 | #65

    Well if you walked down the street with a picture of Brendon Nelson I imagine that most people would on seeing the picture recognise who it was. Brendan Nelson is pretty high profile. He has been touted in the media several times as a possible future prime minister.

  66. avaroo
    February 27th, 2006 at 02:45 | #66

    Terje, I think you missed my point. I’ll try again, but this is the last time.

    As I’ve said a couple of times now, I often hear about how the creationists are on the verge of taking over in the US. How very dangerous they are and how they must be stopped. Yet no one can name a single person who would be widely and immediately recognizable to make this happen. Brendan Nelson, if he is a candidate for prime minister anywhere, probably isn’t going to be forcing creationism down any American throats.

  67. Kristjan Wager
    February 27th, 2006 at 22:39 | #67

    Is Frist, Pat Bucahnon, McCain, or George W. Bush acceptable names? All of them endorse ‘teaching the controversy’, which are a way to force creationism (or it’s clone, Intelligent Design) down the throats of Americans.

  68. avaroo
    February 28th, 2006 at 10:02 | #68

    “Is Frist, Pat Bucahnon, McCain, or George W. Bush acceptable names?”

    Yes, they are all acceptable names. But I asked for names of people who are allegedly “creationists”. If we look at only Bill Frist, you’d have a terrible time convincing anyone with even a lick of sense that a scientist, a medical doctor is against science in any way. How is this not obvious?

    “All of them endorse ‘teaching the controversy’,”

    oh my goodness! What kind of people believe in such freedom. How heinous!

    “which are a way to force creationism (or it’s clone, Intelligent Design) down the throats of Americans. ”

    How so? I can’t see teaching controvery as forcing anything down anyone’s throat. Explain how this can be.

  69. Majorajam
    March 1st, 2006 at 11:24 | #69

    Avaroo, does your definition of creationism include creationism dressed up to look like science? If so, you can throw Senator’s Brownback and Santorum on the list of creationists and you have some fairly notable Republicans (to say nothing of dubya and the myriad others that have lent vague support). Alternatively, it may be a coincidence that Intelligent Design was designed subsequent to creationism’s being laughed out of the Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard. And if you believe that, then your potential for critical thought is very much in keeping with your average card carrying republican.

  70. Dogz
    March 2nd, 2006 at 09:52 | #70

    jquiggin:

    …arguing for smaller classes is against the interest of current teachers. This is obvious when you think about it, and I’ve spelt it out above.

    Only an economist would make that statement. What is obvious is that teachers arguing for smaller class sizes will also argue that their wages should not be reduced, or equivalently that the education budget should be increased to pay for the smaller classes. The politics are simple: persuade “A Current Affair” or similar shock news forum to run some “big class sizes are destroying our education system” stories, get the public to put pressure on the govt, and presto: smaller class sizes with a larger education budget.

    But I have to agree with Quiggin’s main point: always look to the funding source. It explains why academics are almost universally left-wing in this country, why Quiggin himself is a proponent of higher taxes, government intervention in the market, etc. Although with their mouths so firmly clamped on the public tit it is remarkable the academics have time enough away from their suckling to speak at all.

  71. jquiggin
    March 2nd, 2006 at 11:44 | #71

    One slight problem with your argument Dogz, is that I have no trouble selling my policy arguments to the capitalist press, who presumably think their readers will pay to read them.
    Only a small part of my publicly-funded academic work is devoted to arguments of this kind (see here.

    A further problem, as you’ve implicitly conceded, is that your argument is one only a non-economist would make, assuming as it does that there is no budget constraint. Obviously this isn’t a concern for you but I suggest that, given that you’re commenting on an economic issue, it should be.

  72. Dogz
    March 2nd, 2006 at 12:01 | #72

    At least you are consistent JQ: if Richard Lindzen’s receipt of a few thousand consulting dollars makes him a mouthpiece of the carbon lobby (as you have previously implied on several occasions), then I suppose you could claim that your receipt of a few thousand dollars from the capitalist press makes you a rabid free-marketeer.

    But in reality JQ, we both know that’s a load of old cods. When have you ever taken a financial risk? If you lived off your capitalist press earnings that would be one thing, but your CV suggests that you have spent your whole life collecting taxpayer largesse.

    And a further problem for you is that my argument does not assume no budget constraint. It just assumes that teachers are not going to argue for class size reductions without also arguing for an increase in the education budget or some other such measure that will ensure their wage level. A pretty realistic assumption wouldn’t you agree?

  73. Terje
    March 2nd, 2006 at 12:17 | #73

    John,

    I know that you said you will address this is a future post. However you keep making points here so I will keep on responding here.

    By assuming a budget constraint (and suggesting that only a non-economist would assume otherwise) I think you produce an unrealistic policy scenerio. In short I think you are doing a single interation economic analysis with a reckless disregard for reality.

    Assuming a static education budget and a policy of smaller classes (and hence a need for more teachers) you then seem to conclude that those teachers will be paid less (ie static salary budget divided by more teachers). However given the likely supply dynamics of teaching labour this just means policy failure. There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.

    Holding the budget steady is not in my view the correct analytical approach. You should be looking at the quantity of teachers required to achieve the policy objective and quantifying how this will subsequently interact with the supply curve. In other words you should start by assuming policy success, from that you should derive the increased quantity of teachers demanded and then by looking at the supply curve you should derive the budget and wage implications of the policy success. Otherwise you are basically ignoring the existence of a labour market and the manner in which the price is ultimately set (long term).

    A comparable analogy would be if the government introduced a policy of three drivers on every train (for safety lets say). Your analysis would lead us to conclude that if the policy was successful then the salary of train drivers would fall by 66%.

    Another comparable analogy would be if the government introduced a policy of one police officer per household. Your analysis would lead us to conclude that if the policy was successful then the salary of police officers would plummet towards zero.

    You are a smart guy and I think you can do a lot better than this hand waving about how we should start our analysis by assume a static education budget.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  74. jquiggin
    March 2nd, 2006 at 13:17 | #74

    “There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.”

    But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    Anyway, this needs a proper post, as you say. RSN.

    Dogz, please cease personal attacks like this. Given that you’re hiding behind anonymity, they’re not very impressive. And since I can only reply by being immodest about my potential private-sector earnings, I’d rather not.

  75. Dogz
    March 2nd, 2006 at 13:55 | #75

    jquiggin, you were the one who made it personal. I raised a general point that the taxpayer funds 95% of the academic activity in this country, and therefore – in complete agreement with your thesis – one should not be surprised that the vast majority of academics are left-leaning interventionists.

    You responded that because you publish in the capitalist press, you are a counter-example to my argument, which I pointed out is a pretty weak counter-example given your overall funding picture. Then you get stroppy because I am supposedly being personal. If you don’t want it to be personal don’t use yourself as an example.

  76. jquiggin
    March 2nd, 2006 at 14:56 | #76

    Dogz, what is the point of making claims whose falsehood can be seen by anyone who reads the page? In your comment at 9:52 am you say

    “But I have to agree with Quiggin’s main point: always look to the funding source. It explains why academics are almost universally left-wing in this country, why Quiggin himself is a proponent of higher taxes, government intervention in the market, etc.”

    Now you assert that this was a general point with no personal reference.

  77. Dogz
    March 2nd, 2006 at 15:13 | #77

    Ok, I’ll rephrase it:

    “But I have to agree with Quiggin’s main point: always look to the funding source. It explains why academics are almost universally left-wing in this country, why Quiggin himself is why academics such as Quiggin are proponents of higher taxes, government intervention in the market, etc.�

    I dare say had I worded it originally thus, you would have responded exactly the same way. It only got specifically personal when you tried to argue that you’re somehow different from the rest of the taxpayer-funded academics because you generate a portion of your income from the capitalist press and because you publish on topics other than increased taxation/intervention.

    I’ve already addressed the first point and the second is irrelevant: most of your left-wing colleagues publish nothing on taxation/intervention, but that doesn’t mean they don’t directly benefit from higher taxes and a more interventionist government.

  78. jquiggin
    March 2nd, 2006 at 15:22 | #78

    Dogz, I haven’t got time to deal with trolls. Either apologise for the personal attacks and silly attempt to cover them up, or go elsewhere.

  79. Dogz
    March 2nd, 2006 at 15:40 | #79

    I am not trolling. The majority of academics are left-wing. Left-wing policies directly benefit academics in Australia. So applying your thesis, we should be suspicious of the motives of left-wing academics. I certainly am.

    You are a proponent of higher taxes/intervention. That’s a matter of public record. You are a recipient of large sums of taxpayer funding. That’s also a matter of public record. Ergo, I am suspicious that your views are at least partly motivated by self-interest.

    But I am not singling you out: as I already said, I am suspicious of any public “servant” that advocates a larger role for government. You’re the one that thinks you are immune from such suspicion because you get paid for the odd publication in the capitalist press.

    What do you want me to apologize for? Applying your thesis to yourself?

  80. jquiggin
    March 2nd, 2006 at 15:46 | #80

    Dogz, as I said, I’m too busy to deal with trolls, and I’ve had a string of them lately. You’re on automatic moderation from now on.

  81. Terje
    March 2nd, 2006 at 16:33 | #81

    But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    What you seem to be saying is that monopoly union power gives the supply curve for teaching labour an unusual shape. So we would then want to see what kind of shape you propose and also perhaps how more teachers would change the dynamics of the monopoly. It would seem that you have jumped from a model that seems to simple to one that seems quite complex.

    However I’ll go back into wait mode and look for the full post where you intend laying out your case more broadly.

  82. Standard Deviant
    March 2nd, 2006 at 19:17 | #82

    What you seem to be saying is that monopoly union power gives the supply curve for teaching labour an unusual shape. So we would then want to see what kind of shape you propose

    The is no supply curve for a monopoly market.

  83. James Farrell
    March 2nd, 2006 at 19:19 | #83

    ‘What you seem to be saying is that monopoly union power gives the supply curve for teaching labour an unusual shape.’

    As I mentioned earlier, there is no supply curve when there is a monopoly. You can talk about reservation prices, and the affect of market conditions on the monopolist’s market power, but the supply curve itself only has a place in the pure competition model.

    Suppose for the sake of argument that was no union, that teachers’ labour is on its supply curve. Then it would be trivially true that you couldn’t hire more without raising wages. But if teachers are exercising monopoly power, the implication is that the wage is above the free market supply price. There would be more teachers willing and able to sell their services at that lower price. If the government offers a deal whereby employment goes up but wages fall (relative to what they would otherwise have been), it’s up to the union whether they accept it. If they do, they are acting against their interests.

    This seems pretty straightforward. The only way around it is to argue that the teacher’s union has enough clout to persuade governments to increase the school education budget sufficiently to allow both more teachers and higher pay (again, relative to the base-line scenario.) This seems implausible to me, but you may choose to speculate otherwise: it’s not something we can resolve by armchair reasoning.

    As a final substantive point, I’m not sure why you keep saying that this analysis assumes a static budget, as in your train driver example. To deploy your favourite concept: it only assumes that elasticity of the salary budget with respect to salary levels is less than unity. That is, it assumes that the train drivers’ wages will fall, but not to 67% of their current level.

    Just one comment on rhetorical style. It’s not conducive to constructive debate to make comments like ‘You’re a smart guy, you can do better’ or to accuse people of ‘arm waving’ (whatever that means). The implication is that your arguments are self-evidently correct and that your antagonist is just trying to dodge them. When someone adopts this attitude, it seems unlikely that the dialogue will produce any convergence. The more serious parties to the discussion will drop out, leaving the field to those who specialise in hollow slogans and cheap point-scoring.

  84. Simonjm
    March 2nd, 2006 at 19:28 | #84

    Before the topic dies I’ll add a perspective where I’m the sceptic from the minority doubting the mainstream ‘academic’ view. We can tie this in with Wiki also.

    At the moment over at Wiki there is a debate going on about the Jesus article and whether there is evidence that there was a historical Jesus figure. A lone sceptic is saying that no there isn’t any independent evidence that a historical Jesus figure ever existed-in the discussion tab- and that the mainstream Biblical scholarship-who think there is- is culturally biased because of various reasons, some to do with the centrality of a historical Jesus to their personal and cultural identity.

    The atheist sceptic is basically being treated like the AGW sceptics here that he isn’t an expert, he goes against the mainstream that are, he ignores the evidence and is biased by his ‘militant’ views.

    For the record I’m a strong atheist who is generally agnostic on the historical Jesus but do tend to think he didn’t really exist for various reasons. Now do I and this other atheist think this because of some confirmation bias? (to me I’m happy with either as even if he was historical he was still just a man)

    Comparing both the evolutionist vs creationist, AGW supporter vs AGW sceptic the historical Jesus supporter vs Historical Jesus sceptic on the surface the arguments can seem very similar with lay people outside a disciple making judgements on limited information often calling into question the objectivity of those with the mainstream view.

    It would seem to be that the best bet is you go with the mainstream but as I’ve pointed various times the mainstream can be wrong as happened in the past with race and sexuality. I bet it would have been very hard to be a contrarian back in those days and that you would be a extremist to boot.

    So how do you know that you are objective or intelligent enough to know from outside a discipline what the evidence is saying or whether the mainstream view is under institutional/social bias?

  85. James Farrell
    March 2nd, 2006 at 21:54 | #85

    That’s a reasonable point, Simonjm. It depends a bit on what you mean by ‘in the past with race and sexuality’. If you’re referring to a debate that occurred mostly in the social sciences, it’s a bit different because there’s likely to be a wider range of respectable opinion. If it’s in biological science, I wonder how far back is ‘in the past’. There the theoretical development and the accumulation of related experimental evidence have been phenomenal in the last two decades alone; prenouncements prior to that would have been more speculative, and a range of opinion more permissable.

    What’s a nice atheist like you doing in the Jesus department anyway?

  86. Simonjm
    March 3rd, 2006 at 10:51 | #86

    James I was talking about masturbation and female sexuality in the Victorian era and race and eugenics in the 1920’s.

    Are we free of sexual hang-ups?

    We have wing nuts like Doctor Phil who is qualified in “clinical psychology and behavioral medicine has a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from North Texas State University with a dual area of emphasis in clinical and behavioral medicine� who have jumped on the Opra anti-sexuality bandwagon and is being criticized by many working sex therapists for many of his stances including any form of pornography as not only morally wrong but any regular use especially from within a marriage is a symptom of mental problems.

    (BTW I caught that Race doco that was on recently that says there is NO biological basis for race. I always though a better position -given that there is definitely a higher frequency of certain genes for physiological traits related to migratory and geographical history – to say that only a small fraction of our conception of race is due to biology and the overwhelming majority is social construction. )

    I think there was a case on Catalyst last year about a lone child psychiatrist who thinks that the mainstream is over diagnosing and over proscribing medication for things like child tantrums and attention problems that could be corrected in most cases by better parenting skills. As a lay person on the surface he appears to have a case but yet again if true he is in the extreme minority going against what appears to be the mainstream view with that discipline.

    There are also claims that mush of the obesity epidemic is a beat-up and is nowhere near as harmful esp for the elderly as has been made out.

    Have the ‘soft’ sciences come far enough to escape social or institutional bias? I’m not so sure. Personally I think there is still a long way to go before any such claim can be made if indeed it ever can be.

    BTW why? just checking out the fiction section ;)

  87. Majorajam
    March 3rd, 2006 at 12:15 | #87

    Dogz,

    You write:

    The majority of academics are left-wing. Left-wing policies directly benefit academics in Australia. So applying your thesis, we should be suspicious of the motives of left-wing academics. I certainly am.

    You are a proponent of higher taxes/intervention. That’s a matter of public record. You are a recipient of large sums of taxpayer funding. That’s also a matter of public record. Ergo, I am suspicious that your views are at least partly motivated by self-interest.

    To which I would write:

    The majority of business owners are right-wing. Right-wing policies directly benefit business owners in Australia. So applying JQ’s thesis, we should e suspicious of the motives of right-wing business owners. I certainly am.

    You are a proponent of lower taxes/laissez faire. That’s a matter of public record. You are a beneficiary of large tax breaks. That’s also a matter of public record. Ergo, I am suspicious that your views are at least partially motivated by self-interest.

    Of course I don’t know these things about you (your profession or income), however, I do know that the argument is perfunctory and totally impossible to abstract from. You confuse credibility with objectivity when the point of ad hominem ad nauseam is that credibility is meaningful (which, for social and practical reasons, it is). Certainly you aren’t arguing that JQ has lost credibility, correct? If so, the preponderance of evidence suggests you are a troll.

  88. December 14th, 2006 at 15:02 | #88

    “There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.�

    But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    Anyway, this needs a proper post, as you say. RSN.

    John,

    Nine months has gone by and I have not seen “a proper post” addressing the issue of class sizes and whether teachers have a conflict of interest in the debate. I might have missed it but I trawl your site most days and I don’t think you ever did address it. I presume RSN means “Really Soon Now”.

    I did do a search to see if maybe you did one when I wasn’t looking but that did not indicate that you had: http://tinyurl.com/yn7qr4

    To reiterate my argument was:-

    Let me summarise my position:-

    1. I claim that a policy of smaller classes will due to market forces (supply and demand) necessitate higher teachers wages. Without higher wages the policy would fail. You have not refuted the logic of this claim.

    2. I claim that in practice it is unlikely that the higher wages would be paid only to new teachers.

    3. I claim that these higher wages give rise to a conflict of interest for existing teachers that participate in debates about class sizes.

    4. I claim that in practice teachers do not evisage a government implementing a policy of smaller class sizes and paying for it out of the existing budget allocation. They argue for a bigger education budget to fund smaller classes.

    5. I do not claim that smaller classes is a bad thing.

    6. I do not claim that teachers should be excluded from any discussion about class sizes.

    7. I do not claim that teachers are bad people or any less genereous than other members of the general population.

    Now if I am “obviously� wrong I would appreciate if you could help me find the flaw in my logic.

  89. FDB
    December 14th, 2006 at 15:56 | #89

    Absent any recognisable conclusion, I for one am hard pressed to assess your logic. I reallise I may have missed it somewhere back in the history of this thread, but would you care to re-state it?

  90. December 14th, 2006 at 16:28 | #90

    If you have the same number of students with smaller classes then you need more classes and hence you need more teachers. That much is basic arithmatic. With a larger demand for teachers you would expect a higher price assuming that the supply of teachers is not 100% elastic.

    Even if the price for teachers is above the market clearing rate (due to union power and political influence) then teachers still have a vested interest in lifting the market clearing rate as a form of insurance against any future loss of union power.

    John Quiggin does not appear to have ever effectively explained why there is no conflict of interest. He could have said the conflict is negligible but he does not seem to want to even concede that much.

  91. jquiggin
    December 14th, 2006 at 17:25 | #91

    That’s right Terje, Real Soon Now

  92. December 14th, 2006 at 20:24 | #92

    So in other words you never intended to deal with the question. What a real show of bad faith.

  93. jquiggin
    December 14th, 2006 at 20:57 | #93

    If you don’t like the free icecream, Terje, you can have your money back. I’ll post on this when I get around to it, which is what Real Soon Now means. If you ask nicely, it might be sooner rather than later. If you ask rudely, you won’t get an answer at all.

  94. December 14th, 2006 at 22:23 | #94

    John,

    Your link includes the remark “don’t hold your breath” along side the initials RSN. “Don’t hold your breath” in this sort of context would typically means that you never intend to deal with the question. The fact that you offered the link seemed to me to be an inference that RSN had always meant you had no intention of responding. “Don’t hold your breath” seemed to me to be a rude response on your part. Having been led to believe that you had the intention of responding I felt quite shocked to find you suggesting that you had never intented responding at all.

    Your latest comment on me being rude seems to be somewhat precious. I merely noted that “don’t hold your breath” implies that you never intended to deal with the question and that this left me feeling that you had shown bad faith. I was not trying to insult you so much as interpret what seemed like rudeness on your part. Perhaps I misinterpreted your link in which case I will be happy to retract the assertion, however I am currently lost as to what your link was really trying to say.

    As for free ice cream it takes two or more people to form a dialogue and whilst you no doubt put a lot into running this site and many people enjoy it (me included) you are not the only one that contributes for free. Of course you don’t ever need to respond, that is a given, however like all of us you look a lot better if you deal with disagreements by explaining your position.

    If you do actually intend responding and RSN does not mean “don’t hold your breath”, but rather some time soon, then I will be pleased to nicely ask that you address this point about class sizes and teachers conflicts of interest. However before then I think you really need to clear up the intent behind your “Really Soon Now” link. To me it seemed like a real fob off. To me it seemed like you were being rude.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  95. sdfc
    December 14th, 2006 at 22:30 | #95

    Terje

    Where is the money to come from for the extra teachers at a higher rate of pay if not from a bigger education budget?

  96. December 14th, 2006 at 22:44 | #96

    Sdfc,

    My working assumption was that if you have extra teachers at higher pay then the money would need to come from a bigger education budget. I hope that clears up your question.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  97. jquiggin
    December 15th, 2006 at 09:27 | #97

    Terje, sorry for being snappy. To clarify, I hope to do a post on this sometime, but I won’t have time for a while. Remind me next year.

  98. December 15th, 2006 at 09:45 | #98

    John,

    sorry for being snappy

    Apology accepted.

    To clarify, I hope to do a post on this sometime

    Thankyou for clarifying. From this clarification it seems that you clearly did intend to respond which was my original interpretation. I apologise for misinterpreting your RSN link (which seems to be what I have done).

    I understand that good intentions get subverted by the daily grind and other interests. I would appreciate you giving your considered response when time permits.

    Remind me next year.

    I will endeavour to ask again in the new year.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  99. sdfc
    December 15th, 2006 at 13:40 | #99

    Terje

    Certainly does. I obviously misinterpreted your point 4.

  100. January 19th, 2007 at 22:36 | #100

    “There will be no extra teachers if wages decline, hence no smaller classes, hence no successful policy of smaller classes, hence no meaningful wage outcome to model.�

    But for this to be true, the wage for teachers must already be at the market-clearing level, which implies no monopoly power for teacher unions. In this case, I think the argument works OK, but the analogy is more with advertising than with the standard wage bargaining model.

    Anyway, this needs a proper post, as you say. RSN.

    John,

    Regarding your comment quoted above. You suggested that I should raise the issue again in the new year. So it is the new year now and I am raising this issue again. I’d be pleased if you could explain your position.

    The summary of my stated position:-

    1. I claim that a policy of smaller classes will due to market forces (supply and demand) necessitate higher teachers wages. Without higher wages the policy would fail. You have not refuted the logic of this claim.

    2. I claim that in practice it is unlikely that the higher wages would be paid only to new teachers.

    3. I claim that these higher wages give rise to a conflict of interest for existing teachers that participate in debates about class sizes.

    4. I claim that in practice teachers do not evisage a government implementing a policy of smaller class sizes and paying for it out of the existing budget allocation. They argue for a bigger education budget to fund smaller classes.

    5. I do not claim that smaller classes is a bad thing.

    6. I do not claim that teachers should be excluded from any discussion about class sizes.

    7. I do not claim that teachers are bad people or any less genereous than other members of the general population.

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