The idea of the university

Before we get bogged down in the election, I thought I’d do a quick post on this piece that caught my eye. It was a piece in the Age in the long-running dispute between Melbourne University Private and Senator Kim Carr, Labor Science and Research Spokesman. Here’s what caught my eye.

[Carr] claimed five of the 12 research publications MUP had produced up to June 30 this year did not meet Commonwealth Department of Education, Science and Training guidelines and suggested there were doubts about another five.

The university, in its final submission to the committee on Thursday, denied making any false claims, maintained its research report had been properly audited, and said its research publication rate was almost twice the national average (emphasis added).

I thought this must be a misprint. An entire university with 12 publications in a year? I get more than that[1], and so do quite a few other researchers. And how can this possibly be “above the national average?”
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It’s on !

PM Calls Oct 9 poll In the face of such a long-anticipated announcement, I haven’t anything new to say right now, so I thought I’d invite commenters to post their predictions. Any sort of prediction is welcome, but I’ll have a contest for the commenter who can give the most accurate forecast of the number of House of Representatives seats won by the Coalition. The prize, if any, will be announced later.,

Misleading reporting of surveys

A lot of people have pointed to a survey reported in the Telegraph and accepted the misleading interpretation of the results given by the Tele’s Malcolm Farr. First, the results. Of those surveyed, 47 per cent thought Howard had lied on children overboard, 31 per cent did not believe he had lied, and 22 per cent were uncommitted. On a second question, 60 per cent said it would not influence the way they voted, 31 per cent said it would and 9 per cent were uncommitted. The heading is “If PM lied, few care” and the opening para is “A large majority of voters have said the issue won’t influence their polling booth choice – even if they think the Prime Minister didn’t tell the truth.” This is wrong in almost every way a survey report can be wrong.
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Howard the spammer

The right wing of Ozplogistan has lined up fairly loyally behind Howard until now. There are plenty of people happy to vote for a liar. But is anyone out there loyal enough to advocate voting for a spammer ?[1],[2]

fn1. OK, it’s Howard’s son who actually does the spamming, but it’s Howard’s money and message.

fn2. While I’m at it, a quick note on my previous post on “legitimate” companies that employ spammers I emailed two of those mentioned (couldn’t find an email address on the website for the third) but got no reply.

The political economy case for Kerry

Brad de Long gives a rather unenthusiastic case for thinking Kerry will be a better economic manager than Bush. The first and most convincing of his proposed reasons is that

The Bush administration always does much worse than you anticipate, no matter how low your expectations are

The others are the quality of his team and the fact that he will restore proper processes.

The reason Brad doesn’t display more enthusiasm is that Kerry hasn’t given much ground for it. He has a plan to cut the deficit in half, but then, so does Bush[1].

I’d like to offer an argument based on political business cycles to suggest that Kerry has to do better than Bush.
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I told the witch doctor

From what I’ve seen, lie-detectors are little more than a 20th century version of methods known to witch-doctors since time immemorial. If the subject believes the witch-doctor has the power to detect lies, they will give themselves away with cues that can be picked up by an alert human or mechanical observer. So when Mike Scrafton volunteered to take a polygraph test to show that he was telling the truth and the PM was lying, I didn’t put too much weight on the results. (As a way of keeping the story alive, and dramatizing it for a big TV audience, it was great, though). I wasn’t too surprised when Howard dismissed it as a gimmick.

But following a letter in yesterday’s Fin, I’ve discovered that the Howard government actually takes lie detectors very seriously, and has been trying them out in ASIO .This is being done, at least in part,at the behest of the US

On June 25 [2002], the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, signed a new, legally binding, pact with the US to protect classified information. Although no details were spelled out in the pact, the US wants Australian officials who have access to highly classified US intelligence material to be subjected to the same polygraph tests that routinely apply to American officials.

Whatever the merits of integrated defence in general, in this case I think we’d be better off hiring some witch-doctors.

New on the website

I’ve been a bit slack about updating the website where I keep all my articles, working papers and so on. One reason is that I’ve been working on a new site for the research group I’ve been setting up as part of my Federation Fellowship (design and organisation suggestions most welcome).

In any case, I’ve just put up about six months’ worth of opinion pieces from the Fin, which you can read here Feel free to comment!

Sistani rules, OK ?

As the pointless bloodbath in Najaf drags on, Ayatollah Sistani has finally returned from hospital treatment in London, and looks likely to be the only person to come out of this disaster with any credit[1]. His march on Najaf will, it seems likely, allow Sadr and the American-Allawi forces to reach the kind of face-saving compromise that has been the only possible outcome all along, apart from the disastrous option of an assault on the shrine and the martyrdom of Sadr.

Update #1 27/8 I’ve come across a useful piece by a former Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority, Larry Diamond, linked, with some interesting comments by Gary Farber Gives an account of the Coalition’s dealings with Sadr and other militias (minor snipe: Diamond uses “prevaricating” when he means “vacillating” to describe this).

Update #2 27/8 Like most people not actually on the scene who seek to be well-informed about Iraq, I’m indebted to Juan Cole for his informed comment and information on the situation. He’s just put up a post assessing the winners and losers from the Najaf situation which matches, almost point for point, what I posted yesterday. Of course, it carries a lot more weight coming from him than from me.
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McKitrick mucks it up

Late last year, the debate over climate change was stirred up when an environmental economist, Ross McKitrick and a mining executive, AndrewSteven McIntyre, published a piece claiming to refute climatological research crucial to the claim that the last few decades have seen unparalleled global warming (the ‘hockey-stick‘ paper of Mann, Bradley and Hughes). According to McKitrick and McIntyre, the work of Mann et al was riddled with errors, The paper was loudly publicised by the American Enterprise Institute (home of John Lott) and, as you would expect, Flack Central Station. Mann et al produced an immediate rebuttal, and despite many promises of a rejoinder, McKitrick and McIntyre have never responded on the substantive issues[1].

This would be par for the course, except that McKitrick somehow managed to attract the attention of Tim Lambert, famous for his demolition of Lott’s shonky research, which purported to show that guns reduce crime. The result: McKitrick’s work is even shoddier than Lott’s.

Update 27/8 I’ve had some run-ins with John Brignell of Number Watch, who generally takes a contrarian line on global warming and other environmental issues. So I emailed him pointing out this absurdity to see what would happen. I’m pleased and impressed to say he checked the numbers and posted a link almost immediately (scroll to bottom of page).
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The other deficit: Part II

In my previous post on US trade, I argued that if the current account deficit is to be stabilised at a sustainable level, the balance of trade on goods and services must return to surplus in the next decade or so. In this post, I’m going to ruIe out a soft option and argue that, while a smooth market-driven adjustment is not inconceivable, it’s unlikely.
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