Thursday, July 19, 2007

Seeing Through Ron Paul

The "libertarian" who "would have" voted for Defense of Marriage Act? See here.

Anecdotes from Moore's Sicko

I just saw these on Wikipedia's entry. For those too lazy to check the link:

1. Rick, who accidentally sawed off the tops of his middle and ring fingers on one hand while working at home. He had no insurance and limited funds at his disposal, so he was asked by the hospital to choose whether to have the end of his middle finger reattached for $60,000 or the end of his ring finger for $12,000. He chose the ring finger.[6]

Doug Noe. Noe's insurance provider, Cigna Healthcare, approved a cochlear ear implant for only the left ear of Noe's toddler daughter, Annette, who was born with an acute hearing disability. Cigna argued that a two-ear operation was "experimental." After Noe alerted Cigna that Moore was making a movie about the US Healthcare system, and that Noe's case would be featured in it, Noe was contacted by Cigna, and they agreed to approve the second implant.[7] This occurred before Moore had actually heard of Noe's case, so Noe acted independently of Moore.

Cigna, incidentally, is a publicly traded company (NYSE:CI). Stock is up nearly 60% for the year.

3. A woman gets stuck with the ambulance bill after a car accident because she didn't clear the charge with her insurer before requesting the ambulance; the accident had immediately rendered her unconscious and unable to request approval.[6]

Tracy Pierce died from kidney cancer after his insurer denied numerous treatments recommended by his doctor, including a possibly life-saving bone-marrow transplant.[6]

One woman's insurance provider denied coverage after an operation, because she didn't mention a minor, previous yeast infection on her application; they retroactively cancelled her coverage on that basis. [6]

Accounts of four fully-insured American women being denied crucial specialist referrals, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures. Two of the women died of cancer as a result, and one eventually sued her HMO after the diagnosis of her brain tumour in Japan (her American HMO told her the tumour doesn't exist). A footage of the director of her HMO testifying is shown.

7. Homeless dumping. Homeless patients, still in hospital gowns and some with IV tubes in their arms, were abandoned at homeless shelters by Los Angeles hospitals after they had received incomplete medical treatment.[8][9] Mike Huffman is seen in the film describing the dumping of a woman at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles' Skid Row.

So, for those naive optimists who think that bad things don't happen, especially in America -- there you go. You're full of shit, as usual. It's like the attack on conspiracy theorists: "people are too good for that" or "it's too hard to keep secrets". Yeah, right. Your average American doesn't know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites and thinks microwaves cause cancer. Morons have no sense for what is plausible and what isn't.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

UnitedHealth tries to rate doctors

When I read the summary of this article I was annoyed, but as I read it I realized that the attorney general made a very good call. UnitedHealth has a conflict of interest rating doctors.

UnitedHealth is No.21 on the Fortune 500. They stand to profit nicely if Hillary Clinton mandates that everyone receive private health insurance -- please God let's hope that doesn't happen.

Polling Economists

I've read a few of these, but they've been in (closed -- of course) scientific journals, so I couldn't exactly link to them for discussion. This one is pretty basic, with a very small sample size of 81.

Notice that a fairly significant portion (40-45%) is consistently liberal -- that's not uncommon among academic economists. Universal healthcare in the US receives an agreement of 44.7%, with 15.7% neutral. Most of these economists are probably thinking of the conventional single-payer system rather than a government-funded HSA system, as I've discussed here and which Adam Rawlings describeshere, because the idea of a government-funded HSA + a high-deductible health insurance and coverage for the chronically ill hasn't caught fire with too many economists yet. It also gets a bad rap because conservatives are trying to spin it as a solution without government subsidy, which probably won't work.

Things which receive Doomsday attention like the Social Security crisis among the media have a simple solution among economists: 77.2% would simply raise the retirement age.

35.7% of economists also opposed Bush's proposal to partly change Social Security into a mandated retirement account which is invested in the market. Some of that may be attributed to the wording of the statement which says that "the best way to deal with the Social Security long-term funding gap is mandatory personal accounts." There's no way that it is a solution to the funding gap. In the long-run it would be beneficial, but in the short-run it would cause a budget shortfall which would have to covered by the youth. It runs the risk of giving idiots too much freedom, I suppose, and those idiots who lost all their money would have to be covered by the government -- but it could be run like a state pension system, which allows you to invest in certain areas (smallcap, growth, value) but doesn't allow you to pick individual stocks on your own.

Anyway, check it out and check out some of the other Berkeley Electronic press articles as well -- they are fairly open access.

Floating Ideas

I've had a few ideas for posts floating around:
  1. An examination of the real economic value of things - beyond just its exchange value.
  2. The valuable functions that investing in equities performs (or does not).
  3. How much I despise G.E. Moore's "naturalistic fallacy".
  4. Hillary Clinton sucks.
  5. I love Mike Gravel. Visit to figure out why.
Instead I've been lazily researching stocks and tooling around on Reddit, trying to educate people in economics and promote Mike Gravel under my new alias, censored. So far I've been moderately successful, but I'm about ready to give up. I find it depressing that Conde Nast(y) has already bought Reddit, which is much nicer than Digg.

Coming up with usernames is perhaps the biggest hurdle I have to overcome when getting involved with websites -- I'm still not very involved with Wikipedia because I don't have a good username. (I have several, none of which I like.) That's probably a good thing because I am an expert in nothing, and Wikipedia should get the attention of experts -- meh, that's a dumb excuse. Wikipedia needs my help.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

An Important Paradox

Sometimes it seems like philosophy is, or at least has been, largely a study of intractable paradoxes. The greatest of these is certainly not the paradox of God -- that is a paradox based upon a fictional, contradictory concept, so it's no surprise that it is paradoxical.

A more important paradox is the illusion of free will in a deterministic world. Yet at a closer glance this does not seem to be a real paradox either -- it is based upon another fiction; that is, that people have free will. People can "choose" on a whim to act a certain way.

I haven't heard any convincing arguments resolving this paradox. There is no easy answer. Compatibilism essentially says that lack of ultimate freedom to choose "doesn't matter", but clearly when you are morally blaming people for actions which they were completely compelled to do, it does matter. It's hard to understand why the compulsion of a gun to the head is more meaningful than the compulsion of Hard determinists hit closest to the truth -- and the main argument against them is seemingly that they are "too pessimistic".

People should be held morally responsible for their underlying nature (perhaps genes) rather than their actions because their genetics are at the core of who they are. That means that those who are by their nature criminal (that is, genetically) are more blameworthy than those who are driven into criminal behavior through environmental pressures, such as, perhaps, child molesters. Neither should be regarded as "evil" -- both are "bad" from the perspective of the . They should be regarded with pity. The former is a flawed human being from the start while the latter's potential has been (seemingly irrecoverably) destroyed. If their guilt was sufficiently proven (that is, zero doubt) I would have zero trouble with their execution.

The the perpetual "free will" illusion has a pragmatic, self-fulfilling - when everyone believes that everyone has free will and that people who commit wrong acts do that willfully, it imposes a deterrence on immoral and criminal acts. Lifting the veil could potentially revoke that deterrence and allow people to act even worse than they currently do, if you can imagine that. But is that really likely? I don't think so. The deterrence does not seem to be very effective. The veil, as an obvious fiction, is already under subtle attack and has been since the beginning of human history. The distorted view of responsibility confuses people. The first step to recovery is to stop denying.

Some people may think Social Darwinism when I say genetics. While that may be a concern twenty or thirty years down the road, I don't mean to endorse that view at all. The study of how genes affect behavior seems like it always be an imperfect science because of all the variables. Furthermore, if someone is told that they are genetically dishonest or sociopathic -- is it possible for them to then consciously overcome that? I don't know.

Some may notice that this argument is essentially just a secular repacking of Calvinism. Just as Calvinists felt heavy pressure to prove themselves as God's chosen, so people today may feel the pressure to prove themselves as good genetically.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Spending By Executive Office of President

This has to been seen to be believed. The budget for the office of the President rose by an astounding 768% in 2004, and then by another 100% in the next year. Discovered this via Digg here.

I'd seen the outlays by function before, but missed the outlays by agency (actually, it's still on my desktop in Excel format)... going to try to look up the primary source for this right now.

UPDATE: The US government has a shoddy website, but I found the budget without too much trouble. Here is the budget, but you won't find that table there. If you click on the Executive Office of the President you can see a (very limited) breakdown of where his money went for the year 2008, and it seems, surprise, that the Iraq war gobbled most of it.

Scroll to the bottom of that page. and you can list all spreadsheets, where, at Section 4, you'll find Outlays by Agency. I'm looking at it and that picture is correct. The budget for the Executive Office of the President went from far below .05% in 2003 to .1% in 2004, and then up to .3% in 2005.

It's hard to know for sure what's going on with these spreadsheets because there is no legend. In the President Office budget the total BA (Budget Allocated?) is only 341 million but the "outlays" (expenditures) are 5379. Ditto for the next two years. What's going on? How is the White House able to overspend by so much? It reminds me of the extension of some law (Parkinson's, maybe) which states that spending will always exceed income.

Need it be said that the Republicans' rhetoric has never matched their record? They are the War and Business Handout Party, not the Small Government Party -- in contrast, the Democrats are the Farm-Labor Handout Party (in the forms of tariffs, often).

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Crisis of Scientific Journals

Some people think I'm crazy or overly demanding for desiring and expecting scientific research to be free and openly available for all to read and discuss, but this mathematician John Baez of MIT doesn't. He describes the high (and rising) price of academic journals as a crisis and calls for a boycott of the especially ravenous public company and media conglomerate Reed Elsevier (who's databases, as I commented earlier on, pretty much suck). He notes that Reed Elsevier's operating margin was 22%. It was a good year for the stock, rising 30% over the past year according to Google Finance. I first encountered Reed Elsevier when researching the publisher of New Scientist, a magazine which I thoroughly enjoy.

The good news is that in time Elsevier's hegemonic control over scientific publishing will eventually fall, as people such as Baez are outright boycotting the ridiculous restricted-access journals and the publishing companies which collect from them. The bad news is that it is taking longer than I would like, and there is still no good open-access source for economic and social science articles. For other disciplines the resources are much greater - see BiomedCentral, PLoS, Mathworld, and arXiv. The economists (along with all the other social scientists), those paradoxical profit-seeking academics and government workers, are behind the curve, but I doubt it's because they actually profit from journal revenues. The Directory of Open Access Journals lists some Social Sciences, but they are mainly either foreign or unprestigious.

Here the creator Mathworld recounts the story of how he published a book with CRC Press based on a website of his (the early Mathworld) only to be sued later when he didn't remove much of the content from open accessibility. He didn't win the suit - actually, he surrendered early and gave up all the money he'd made from the book.

Economists (and many others e.g. Cato) like to glorify corporations, and certainly they provide valuable services and offer some external benefits to society. Conservatives claim that corporations are unjustly criticized, with a few bad apples and incidents overshadowing the good. While I consider that view to be naive, it could be true. I am well aware that a corporation is in theory only as evil as its members. Yet in practice it is so easy for corporations to slip into an "evil" mindset, beset as they are by the everpresent shadow of the profit motive, share price, and bureaucratic management. In many ways they epitomize the banality of evil.

Eric, the Mathworld creator, says this:
I have had to conclude, to my sorrow, that CRC--perhaps like many other publishers in our era of wild corporate acquisitions and conglomerations--is no longer managed by people who understand and love books, authors, and readers.

The parent company of CRC, Information Holdings Inc., appears unashamed to treat information as a commodity to be exploited for short-term, bottom-line cash with no concern for long-term, strategic planning. The goal of the CRC representatives seemed to be monomaniacal: to squeeze from Wolfram Research and from me as much instant and short-term cash as possible, using the lawsuit as a lever.

How self-defeating in an era of rapid technological change! Apparently uninterested in looking forward and building good future business strategies, here are publishers focusing instead on how to squeeze greater quantities of immediate cash from old "properties."

I have come to realize how unusual it is to be working for a company that is run by people who still enjoy the core activities for which the company was founded. Very early in the lawsuit, a Wolfram Research response to the lawsuit mentioned that Wolfram Research has chosen to remain privately held in order to be free from the obligation to outside stockholders, who appear so often to focus corporations inordinately on short-term financial results. Wolfram Research's principals believe that they can take the long and broad view of the corporation's mission, as they could not if they had to satisfy stock analysts and uninvolved stockholders.

Information Holdings was, of course, publically listed on the NYSE - and no, they didn't go out of business (what large companies do these days?). They merged with The Thomson Corporation in 2003, a company which is now planning to buy Reuters. The Thomson family, which is Canadian, owns 70% of the company and also owns 40% of CTVglobemedia.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Decreasing Marginal Costs Empirically

In my last post I linked to Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences. When I first encountered the book I hadn't taken a class on economics. I glanced through the book, noticed the models, and tossed it aside - I don't like studying models unless I have to. But now I know that I will have to check it out next time I'm at my school's library.

Anyway, the AmazonConnect author's blog is very interesting. His latest post claims that the empirical reality of the firm doesn't match up with the theory. He reports that firms face decreasing marginal costs rather than the standard "always increasing" marginal costs. That hugely invalidates theory, yet, as I commented it makes no sense. A firm producing with fixed capital assets can only produce so much before they are constrained by their limited fixed capital - thus driving the price up. When the fixed costs are increased, the marginal costs fall to a workable level again. Instead I think he may be confusing average and marginal cost. As firms increase production without increasing fixed costs they will spread the fixed costs out. Most people have heard of this: it is called economies of scale and it is a huge force at work in industries today ranging from semiconductors, cars, pharmaceuticals and even software production (wherein the fixed cost is the initial time/money spent on the program and MC is the cost of replicating the software for sale -- essentially just packaging costs). Economics of scale will sometimes produce a natural monopoly.

It wouldn't surprise me if most firms faced fairly constant marginal costs up to a threshold level (that level being the capacity of a plant or the capacity of a firm to provide services without hiring more employees). At a certain point one's employees and one's factory becomes overextended. One has to work people overtime and run the machines overtime. Ultimately marginal cost must increase if fixed costs remain fixed. Correct me if I'm wrong.

However, empirically most businesses will fluidly increase their "fixed" costs as MC begins to increase, so businesses wouldn't notice increasing marginal costs. But they certainly notice decreasing average costs.

Friday, July 06, 2007

In Defense Of Globalization

In Defense of Globalization was written by Jagdesh Bhagwati, an acclaimed international trade economist and *cue spooky music* Council On Foreign Relations Fellow. The inside cover even claims that this is a "Council On Foreign Relations" book. It's no surprise that I picked it up, then.

What struck me the most early on in the book was the language barrier: Bhagwati's first language is clearly not English. It is hard to hold that against him, but the crudeness of some of his writing is painfully obvious. The book rambles absentmindedly, touching upon economic issues in one paragraph, moral issues in the next, and rants the next. The disorganized, muddled structure of the writing cannot be blamed on the language barrier. Strangely enough, this strange, circumlocutious writing style is common among economists, who seem uncomfortable when not doing equations.

Chapter 1 - Anti-Globalization: Why?

Bhagwati makes the fair case that most of the anti-globalization movement has not done the research on globalization and does not understand economics. They are often young people who "see capitalism asa system that cannot meaningfully address questions of social justice." He laments that the view of capitalism as a "system that can paradoxically destroy privilege and open up economic opportunity to the many " is still uncommon, and points out that "by replacing markets systemwide with bureaucratically determined rations ... worsened rather than improved unequal access."

Already I am suspicious and irritated - there is no mention of the financial power which can accompany capitalism and has meddled in American government for so many years. Sure, it's easy to make "capitalism" sound good when you compare to "socialism" a la a centrally planned economy. But where is the mention of welfare capitalism? What about the more legitimate argument that the globalization has thus far allowed corporations to consolidate too much centralized power and market share themselves? Nowhere in the entire book do I recall Bhagwati making an informed criticism of multinational corporations and unchecked capitalism despite its many abuses.

Another interesting drive which pushes young people to protest globalization is "the dissonance that now exists between empathy for others elsewhere for their misery and the inadequate intellectual grasp of what can be done to ameloriate that distress." He does not add that few of these empathic young people are willing to sacrifice their dollars to help - that may be an unfair criticism, considering how little dollars most of them have. He references the empirical ethics of Hume and Smith, noting that while humans feel under "Hume's concentric circles of reducing loyalty and empathy ... the Internet and CNN have [taken] Hume's outermost circle and turn it into the innermost." When we see and hear the cries of the poor and weak, they become more real to us. On the other hand TV and the Internet have "[shifted] us steadily out of civic participation, so that the innermost circle has become an outermost one."

This book is rich and full of ideas, even if they are spread fairly haphazardly throughout the book. It would be impossible for me go through all of them.

For all this, the book received high praise; for example:

"This book will make history. It will also be a blockbuster, not only because of the depth of Bhagwati's powerful argument backed by extensive research, but also because it is immensely readable and surely the most humorous piece of economics ever written."
-- Hernando De Soto

Humorous? While I respect De Soto, I wonder whether we both read the same book. Econ humor? Here's a joke:

I recall particularly the Cambridge Union Debate, where, astonished that free trade being blamed for environmental problems and other ills in the world, I replied to Teddy Goldsmith by recalling Balzac's 1831 novella ... "Mr. Goldsmith", I added, "you seem to have with you a similar monocle, except that when you use it and see us wonderful free-traders, you find us turned into ugly monsters, our halos turning into devil's horns!"

Hahaha - I see! Free-traders are angels and all of us who see a potential danger of to the environment from free-trade are somehow deceived? Then show us how we are wrong. Bhagwati's environmental chapter seems focused mainly not on environmental harms but rather on the ethical question of how we should value the environment.

Chapter 11 - Environment In Peril?

Of course, increased GDP per capita strongly correlates with reduced outputs of certain pollutants (everything but CO2 and garbage), and that free trade increases GDP growth. But what about corporations outsourcing work to places with lower standards? What about those nations (of which there are plenty) which will increase their pollution with increased production? How bad is the problem, and what can we do to alleviate it? Bhagwati answers none of the questions. Instead, here are his words: "Even God does not know what sustainable development means". He compares it to socialism - as if it was so hard to understand the eminently reasonable and doable concept of Cradle To The Grave.

Chapter 12 - Corporations: Predatory or Beneficial?

Bhagwati spends a fair amount of time claiming that "anti-corporation arguments are not supported by the facts" but not all that much time showing it. He introduces the topic by referring to an old Woody Allen joke:
    There's an old joke... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life — full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness — and it's all over much too quickly.
But does he have a point? Yes, corporations cause problems, but let's be realistic: they are the only force in the world capable of increasing GDP growth. Let's not pretend foreign aid to corrupt governments is useful. Corporations are often a necessary evil. They will always try to extract as many profits as possible, imposing external harms in the form of pollution while they do; they will use the means of lowest cost possible in many cases at the cost of their workers. Sometimes they will use the government to help them form a monopoly, as Telmex in Mexico has done. The main question, then, is to what degree can we get away with regulating corporations to keep them in line, and to what degree this will be efficient -- to what degree it will be on net beneficial to society and the environment. But Bhagwati does little real in-depth analysis of corporations. His one big point (and it is a big one, I suppose) is that corporations pay a "wage premium": they pay an average wage that exceeds the going rate, mostly up to 10 percent and exceeding it in some cases ... from 40 to 100 percent." This is fairly powerful.

We don't have the power to tighten the noose on corporations globally - increased regulations in a developing country could discourage corporations from coming to that country. Bhagwati claims that the effect is not significant empirically, but provides no numbers. Instead he references an economist who simply says that "regulations do not matter to site choice." (Should be "for site choice" - the constant little grammatical mistakes of these economists is annoying.) He points out that multiplant firms "invest in different locations, as multinationals often do, they tend to work uniformly witht he most stringent standards they face among these locations ... simply put, it is more cost-effective to run all of their plants with the same basic technology, so we get a race to the top."

Chapter 13 - The Perils of Gung-ho International Capitalism

This is the one area where Bhagwati criticizes the status-quo and ironically enough decries the "Wall Street-Treasury Complex." He says the East Asian Financial Crisis was caused by a lack of controls on the flow of capital. I'm not very well-educated on this stuff and I'm getting very tired of typing so I think I'm about done.


Unfortunately I've tired myself out and can't write a decent conclusion. When I began writing I wanted to end on a very critical note. In large part I was frustrated by Bhagwati's terrible grammatical style, rambling paragraphs, and lack of hard data. He doesn't get in deep and analyze actual policy, nor does he recommend any improvements. He points out flaws in our current system only in very general terms, or with convoluted logic and unexplained acronyms. This book was billed as a masterpiece but it is thoroughly second-rate. If this is the best defense that a star economist can do then perhaps we shouldn't be trusting them on their data. The interesting thing about economic science is that it sometimes seems as if the only people who really understand and follow it are the economists. Sometimes one has to wonder whether the Emperor Really Does Wear No Clothes. Shamefully written; I would give it two out of five stars or so. The ideas and the arguments are OK - good, even, but the presentation and the flippant, casual manner in which the arguments are made pulls the quality down. Concerns and examples which many of us know happened are not mentioned, which leaves me suspicious as to what else is being left out. There is a good review on Amazon expressing the same sentiments.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Flag Burning - A letter to my Senator


One thing that really made me angry was the attempt to ban flag burning, which nearly succeeded. That would have been a sad day in our nation's history. Today I finally looked up who had voted for it. According to Wikipedia. only 3 Republicans voted against the amendment.

I don't think I should have to explain why the amendment was so foolhardy. It would have certainly been the most petty amendment in our nation's history. Burning the flag is an important and often warranted expression of disgust at what our country's government (and perhaps people) has become.

You may disagree with that opinion, but that doesn't give you the right to force your opinion of what flag-burning means on me.

I would love to hear a reply on this issue and hope that you think carefully about the issue if it comes up again. The Supreme Court has ruled that it is protected speech not once but twice. I see no reason to override that. Perhaps the most interesting fact is that flag-burning is not common and causes few people real trouble, which leads one to believe that the entire movement was a disheartening political ploy.

Again, I would greatly appreciate a reply. I've noticed that I receive replies when I send letters in print, but electronic emails should be treated exactly the same.

Thank you,


It's old news, of course, but the Constitutional Amendment lost by a single vote. 3 Republicans voted against and 14 Democrats voted for. It makes me sick that it was so close.

Sourcewatch: Flag Burning Amendment

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Not So Obvious To Adobe

I made the mistake of switching back to Adobe from Foxit a couple weeks ago. I shot off a couple emails to Adobe a second ago:


I've had a frequent problem with your AdobeUpdater.exe - I think that's what it's called. Whenever I open a PDF, it automatically opens the Updater and never shuts it down. I don't think it needs to be said that an Updater should not run continuously in the background. It should check to see if there's an update - if there isn't, it should close out immediately. Perhaps the best thing would be to simply schedule a time to look up an update, as Apple does.

Suffice it to say that this has been extremely frustrating - I'm not even able to kill the task. In the end I've had to reboot the computer to get rid of the problem, which severely slows down my medium-speed laptop (1.3 Ghz, 512 MB of RAM).

I've uninstalled your program and won't be coming back to it (or any other program of yours) unless I get a reply on your thoughts about this problem. I'm sure others have similar problems. Updaters should not just run in the background.


After loading up Adobe Reader 8 for another quick glance, I sent another one:

One more thing. Your Adobe Reader is one of the few programs which doesn't have general options under the Tools tab - where I would hope that I could find a way to adjust the Updater. I wish you would put those options back.

Anyway, now that I've pursued all my options, I'm done with this program. Hope you can get back to me on the deal and what you were thinking.


An updater which quits if there are no updates? A general options area for the program? ARE THESE NOT OBVIOUS? And yet Adobe has a 23.94 BILLION market cap? (I know, I know. They don't care about the free programs. Yet people know them by their free programs.)

UPDATE: It's not uninstalling. Great... did I mention that it's 267 MB?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

C.P Snow and Scientific Illiteracy

I heard this man's name and checked out his Wikipedia entry to find this:
Snow is most noted for his lectures and books regarding his concept of "The Two Cultures", as developed in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959). Here he notes that the breakdown of communication between the sciences and the humanities is a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

In particular, Snow argues that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. For example, many scientists have never read Charles Dickens, but artistic intellectuals are equally non-conversant with science. He wrote:

    A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the law of entropy. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?'

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question — such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, 'Can you read?' — not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.

This is perhaps even a greater problem today, and can be generalized further - people are most comfortable studying their field, despite the obvious fact that there are diminishing marginal returns when studying a field intensely. Once one has studied literature or philosophy for a few years, one knows the basic concepts. Further work simply supplements those concepts. Real progress may be extremely difficult. On the other hand, learning the introductory basic concepts of another field is very easy and extremely useful.