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Olfactory Eavesdropping

Dan 3

It’s the spring season and a welcome time for a new cocktail recipe. I’ve been fortunate recently to have a few of my cocktails featured around the internet. Eater and Playboy highlighted my Olfactory Eavesdropping cocktail, a gin and rose drink inspired by one of the ways bees communicate.   Neither included the recipe (I recommend coming into Backbar and I’ll make you one) but if you want to make one at home here it is:

1.5 oz London dry gin (e.g. Beefeater)
0.5 Combier Liqueur de Rose
0.5 honey syrup {1:1}
0.5 fresh lemon juice
barspoon of maraschino liqueur

Shake with ice. Double Strain into chilled coupe.
Garnish with 3 drops of rose water.


(photo credit: Adam Landsman)

Music Break: Swedish Americana Edition

December 1, 2014 Leave a comment

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The Reduction of Science

August 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Steven Pinker has a new piece in the New Republic defending the encroachment of scientific reasoning into subjects that have been traditionally partitioned from it such as art, morality, and the humanities.

Scientism, in this good sense, is not the belief that members of the occupational guild called “science” are particularly wise or noble. On the contrary, the defining practices of science, including open debate, peer review, and double-blind methods, are explicitly designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Scientism does not mean that all current scientific hypotheses are true; most new ones are not, since the cycle of conjecture and refutation is the lifeblood of science. It is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities; the promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them. And it is not the dogma that physical stuff is the only thing that exists. Scientists themselves are immersed in the ethereal medium of information, including the truths of mathematics, the logic of their theories, and the values that guide their enterprise. In this conception, science is of a piece with philosophy, reason, and Enlightenment humanism. It is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals, and it is these that scientism seeks to export to the rest of intellectual life.

Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of that magazine, views that intervention as a “spectacular philosophical mistake.”

We are becoming a massified, datafied, quantified society, who looks for wisdom in numbers… which looks for wisdom in numbers. And thinks that numbers can provide certainties of certain kinds. And owing to the explosion of so-called “big data” there has developed this excessive confidence in the ability of the quantifying disciplines to explain human life. So economists are now regarded on authorities on happiness. Happiness is not an economic subject.

Unsurprisingly, Wieseltier relies heavily on confusion and authority to attack science.  Instead of exhibiting undue certainty, science is the language of doubt and caveat. “Big Data” poster boy, Nate Silver, who dealt with statistical luddites at the Times, wrote a whole book on the problem with overconfidence: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t. After all, it’s not traditional moralists, novelists, or theologians explicitly announcing their “margins of error.”

If you’re going to attack the utility of science, I suppose it’s at least consistent to ignore its lessons when constructing an argument against it. Why is happiness not a subject amenable to econometric analysis? Wieseltier declares so by fiat. No reasons necessary apparently.

Contrary to Wieseltier, economists provide important insights into happiness. Instead of relying on conjecture or conventional wisdom scientists can provide evidence-based judgements on ways to organize society that are consistent with more happiness and well-being. Does the data demonstrate that average happiness is unconnected to economic growth across societies as Richard Easterlin argued? Or does newer research by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers “establish a clear positive link between average levels of subjective well-being and GDP per capita across countries?” This vital question has an answer. Rationality demands we don’t decide who is right by who argued it first or by who we intuit is correct. Whichever theory offers the more reliable data, the better scientific controls, and the more robust explanation points us to our provisional truth. If we’re not getting any happier striving for an ever increasing GDP we should hop off the hamster wheel and explore alternatives.  But if increasing our incomes does improve our satisfaction we should enact policies to help us accomplish that and continue to explore alternatives.

Another economist, Daniel Kahneman, has spent his career studying happiness and used the observations of neuroscience and the tools economics to vanish illusory forms of happiness and show how specific goals can affect an individual’s future contentment. Learning whether people tend to be happier if they spend their money on a fancier wardrobe or on taking a vacation can help provide useful knowledge when making our own decisions. Aggregating the experiences of others allows us to avoid common biases and mistakes – it allows us to boost the modest trajectory of limited experience. Is a bigger house worth the tradeoff of a worse commute? Economics supplies the means to evaluate these and other tradeoffs.

Wieseltier and other critics such as Ross Douthat want to constrain science’s influence on their own pet passions, the humanities and religion respectively. But by cordoning off scientific methodology and diminishing science to a file of facts and a tweaker of technology critics commit the same mistake they accuse of scientism – a crass reductionism.


August 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Clint is still awesome, but I had to contribute to the meme:

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Extreme Environmentalists Responsible

‘If “extreme environmentalists” were not successful in prohibiting land based oil drilling in the United States, then companies like BP would not have to resort to looking for oil in the deep oceans. –Sarah Palin on the BP oil spill

Now that ExxonMobile has spilled an estimated 42,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River, I wonder how Palin and friends will blame environmentalists. I’m waiting till they claim that the “speed” of mitigating this disaster proves that we should open up more pristine environments to oil companies.

(photo credit: FR170447 AP)

Grey, Not Blacklist

As the trustworthiness of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser disintegrates, I wonder if Kevin Drum is reconsidering his case for hotels blacklisting accused flashers and other “pervs.”

In other words, if we’re willing to take housekeeper reports of perv activity seriously — and we should be — there’s a pretty slim chance of blacklisting an innocent man. Still, it’s true: mistakes can happen.

After considering Megan McArdle’s objections, Drum hedges from his “zero-tolerance” stance:

So how about this instead: Get reported once and you’re given a warning. My guess is that if you just forgot to deadbolt the door, you’ll never forget again after that. Do it again and you’re blacklisted for a couple of years. After all, everyone deserves a chance to turn over a new leaf. So let them back in after two years, but tell them that a third strike means they’re banned for good.

For the record, I’m not commenting on whether I think DSK is likely to be actually guilty or innocent – I have no idea. I’m not even sure I disagree with Drum’s second proposal in light of the possibility that DSK is innocent. But this extreme case underscores the potential concerns with that type of policy. Hotel chains have a duty to protect their workers but need to ensure that their guests aren’t unjustly banned by and saddled with such a serious charge. Should they adopt a blacklisting policy?


June 16, 2011 2 comments

The Bruins outscored the Canucks 22-1 since Nathan Horton got hit. Tim Thomas wins the Conn Smthe Trophy and posted the first shutout on the road by a goalie in a game 7. Bruins win the Stanley Cup! Hope your victory dance was ready.

(image: Elsa/Getty Images)

Categories: Boston, Hockey, Uncategorized

Home Schools: The New Melting Pot?

On Sunday I caught some of David Gregory’s interview with Rick Santorum on Meet The Press. Gregory’s question near the end caught my attention because he quoted Santorum’s book, It Takes A Family, which somewhat contracted something I wrote a few blog posts ago on schooling. Feel free to skip to the 11:14 mark.

GREGORY: I’ve just got a minute left. I want to pin you down on a couple of quick issues, if I can. One is education. This is something that you wrote in your book, ‘It Takes the Family’ back…


GREGORY: …in 2005 about public education vs. homeschooling. I want to put it up on the screen, it caught my eye. ‘It’s amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools. In a home school, by contrast, children interact in a rich and complex way with adults and children of other ages all the time.’ You want to be President of the United States, public education’s one of the foundational parts of our country, and yet you say the weird socialization is kids being in school with kids their same age?


GREGORY: How is that weird socialization?

SANTORUM: Where else is that – where, where else in, in America, outside of school, do kids go to a place where they sit with people basically the same age, same socioeconomic group, and interact for, for a defined period of time? That’s not what life is like. Life is very different than that. You’re dealing with a whole bunch of different people. And I think, you know, the one-room schoolhouse was the example of how you had interaction, you have sensitivity. I can see it in my, in my own family, I see it in other children who deal with children of different ages, respect for elders. This – what I’m saying is that the – that we need to transform public education to reflect more of what the dynamism is in the private sector. And, and that includes a whole, a whole way of infusing parents into the system, a dynamism of having not people stuck in classrooms.  They – the sort of the old factory model of how we educate people…

I wrote in my post that “Humans instinctively create in-and-out groups, but schools – especially American ones – allow kids a unique context to experience others different from themselves.”

George Washington High School, Philadelphia, PA

Now obviously American public schools are fairly sorted along demographic lines and it’s also true that most classes kids take with peers their own age, but is it really true that home schools are more complex in age and other demographic groups? Home schooled children almost by definition only interact with kids in their same socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Public school kids also spend plenty of time socially interacting with children of different age groups (note to Santorum: public schools usually have more than one grade level in them). Also, just in terms of descriptive accuracy, aren’t many of life’s experiences spent dealing mostly with people from a similar socioeconomic group (communities, workplace, even hobbies)?

I’m not trying to bash home school or elevate our public school system as some heterogeneous utopia, but if you want your kids to interact with “a whole bunch of different people” keeping them at home doesn’t seem like the best strategy.

Categories: Education, Uncategorized

Top Speed

April 24, 2011 1 comment


The Real Deal:

(video via The Daily Dish)

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“Being Forthright Is Saying Nothing”

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s encouraging to see some actual adversarial journalism happening on this issue. Unfortunately, “adversarial journalism” isn’t redundant.

Progressives shouldn’t be hoping for more left of center journalism. Conservatives shouldn’t be thankful for Fox News. Journalists should be feared by anyone with power and responsibility.

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