Propagating Waves

By Sean Carroll | March 11, 2011 9:59 am

A devastating earthquake, 8.9 on the Richter scale, hit Japan today, causing extensive damage and a large tsunami. I can’t imagine what it would be like to look out your window and see something like this headed your way. Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by the disaster.

A force this big propagates around the world, so beaches here in Southern California were expecting heightened wave activity — nothing very serious, but certainly noticeable. Scientists of course immediately leapt into action to estimate what kind of effects should be expected. The National Weather Service circulated this map of predicted wave heights. Click to embiggen.

Naturally, the House of Representatives is trying to cut funding for tsunami warning centers.

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• apikores

Does the falloff of amplitude with distance approximate a 1/r law since they’re propagating in 2 dimensions?

• dbh

apikores: The energy flux of a wave is proportional to its amplitude squared. In 2D, the energy flux should indeed vary as 1/r, so the amplitude should vary as 1/sqrt(r).

I was looking at the curved red band running from Japan to Chile, and was wondering if its shape was governed by the Coriolis force (veering to the right in northern hemisphere, and then to the left after it has crossed into the southern hemisphere).

• Zombie

Wouldn’t the depth/shape of the seafloor also vary the “index of refraction” the wave is travelling through?

Also, something I haven’t heard anything about is the effect if any of the earthquake and tsunami on sea life. Would the underwater acoustics of a large earthquake injure nearby sea life? Farther out I’d assume a wave in deep ocean wouldn’t have much effect, but I could imagine it could do some damage in shallow water near land if the current tore up the sea floor.

• apikores

Ah yes, intensity ~ amplitude^2. Oopsie.

• mah

@dbh: Coriolis might enter into it somewhere, but I’d guess that most of the curve is an artifact of the rectangular projection of the globe’s surface. Great circles that don’t follow a line of latitude or longitude are mapped to curves. You may have noticed similar curves when looking at NASA diagrams of the position and trajectory of the ISS and other satellites of interest relative to the ground below.

• Eva

Zombie: The most obvious victims from the marine life would be the washed ashore fish, turtles and deeps sea creatures. Apart from that the corals are often buried in the sand moved by the currents. Also I’ve heard about fossils preserved in the so called ‘tsunami beds’.

How does the speed of propagation vary with the distance from the epicentre? What about the speeds of the underwater current from the epicentre onward?

• dbh

@mah: Good point – thanks.

• Neal J. King

What would Coriolis force have to do with it? What is being transported is the disturbance, not water.

• Anchor

mah? dbh? Those trajectory curves you see on this map and satellite trajectory displays come about from those map’s projections of great-circle plots and have nothing whatsoever to do with Coriolis. DUH.

• Navneeth

“Click to embiggen”?

What, this has now become a Disco-blogs thing?

• Eric Skoglund

Just a small correction. Shouldn’t the beginning say 8.9 magnitude and not Richter scale. Moment magnitude is now the scale that is used to measure the size of the earthquake.

• Tom W

As a science geek I love this blog, it’s on my RSS reader and I check it out every day. But I wish you’d (used collectively, for all authors who contribute) all stick to science commentary. Whenever you write posts or little blurbs relating to politics/public policy, it turns me off.

A little while ago this blog had a post about ‘anti-science’ Republicans because they’re talking about cutting government funding. That post was bad enough, but this one is a hell of a lot worse. The GOP won a landslide in last year’s elections primarily because of their fiscal stance – the US is spending too much money (on everything!) and they promised cuts. But now you, and Think Progress (a partisan liberal organization/website) are insinuating, if not stating it outright, that defunding this activity would kill people.

NOAA is a multi-billion dollar government agency with wide-ranging activities – not just tsunami warning centers. In a deep recession, where the private sector has had to make sacrifices to remain fiscally solvent, NOAA’s budget has increased. You won’t find that on the Think Progress link you provided, but a quick Google search will send you to NOAA’s own FY11 budget highlight .pdf file. Their FY 08 budget was \$3.8 billion, their FY09 budget was \$4.3 billion, their FY10 budget was \$4.7 billion, and they’ve requested \$5.6 billion for FY11 (a year for which there is no budget).

In Washington double-speak, a decrease in the amount an agency is expected to increase year over year is called a ‘cut.’ So while funding may have actually increased, people will scream that it was ‘cut’ because it didn’t grow as much as projected. I think that’s what has happened here (although I can’t be 100% sure, and don’t have time this morning to do that level of research).

It’s funny, when this blog talks about science, you are very clear about what you know and what you don’t know about a subject, dark matter for example.

But when the subject turns – however briefly – to public policy, the liberal talking points come out with no qualifications, no exploration of contrary views, and no explanation about what you’re doing.

What concerns me is people who give deference to your thoughts on cosmology will give similar deference to your thoughts on public policy, an area where you’re out of your depth.

As I said, I enjoy this blog for the science. I wish you’d stick to that.

• Anonymous_Snowboarder

Sigh.. Did you even research the numbers? Or did you just look for the most biased reporting you could find? First off, there is no line item in the budget which I can find (Obama’s or the House) specific to tsunami warnings. So any reductions in funding to NOAA are up to NOAA to allocate. Second, in 2009 (actual, per Obama budget doc) NOAA had \$3.13B and \$1.24B for Operations,Research,Facilities and Procurement respectively. The 2010 estimate was \$3.41 and \$1.36 and Obama’s 2011 proposal was \$3.41B and 2.18B. What was the House bill? \$2.85B and \$1.46B.

So basically you (and other progressives) are arguing that NOAA can’t possibly make it on 2009 funding levels (the House proposal)? I second what Tom W says – we all enjoy the science content of the blog and while it is certainly your perogative to include politics please at least try to keep that discourse at the same level you would in regards to reporting on scientific observations and theories.

• Tom W

One more thing, because this post has been bugging me all day.

Of all the things you could have written – the magnitude of the tragedy, the science of earthquakes, to the science behind why more people didn’t perish in the quake – you chose to take a political shot at the House of Representatives.

That, I think, says more about the author than it does about the House.

You can, and should, do much, much better.

• logo maker

bless for japanese people.

• John H

Tom W and Anonymous_Snowboarder: fair enough that a science blog should keep political posts separate from scientific ones. The last line muddled observation and analysis a bit.

However, Discover does have a responsibility to advocate for research, especially in cases like Japan’s wherein research’s importance to society is so plain. (And I don’t want to press on about politics, but it’s worth mentioning the folly of the government cutting funding because “the private sector has had to make sacrifices to remain fiscally solvent” – Who, precisely, is supposed to be doing the spending these days? And since when does 4.37 equal 4.31? And what’s \$60 million between friends?)

• Tom W

John H: Fair enough that Discover chooses to advocate for research, and I don’t dispute the importance of this research.

However, ‘advocacy’ in public policy debates is non-scientific almost by definition. Scientists seek truth, and as there is no ‘truth’ in politics. Once you blur the lines between the two you get in trouble, fast.

So if Discover wishes to advocate for research, I would suggest they state it early and often. Perhaps they have and I’ve missed in, in which case I apologize in advance.

And as long as you’re not pressing on about politics (apparently putting it in parenthesis isn’t pressing on), it’s striking how many people interested in science choose not to apply those skills when debating economics or public policy. Ask Greece if it’s folly to continue to grow goverment spending in the midst of a deep recession.

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

Ask Greece if it’s folly to continue to grow goverment spending in the midst of a deep recession.

Greece’s problem is that they don’t control their own monetary policy.

The US does. That’s the difference.

(Greece has other problems, which the US does not, but that’s the central one at issue here.)

And, no, ” grow[ing] goverment spending in the midst of a deep recession” is not “folly”. It’s standard macroeconomic wisdom, since … well, since the Great Depression taught us the folly of doing otherwise.

• Tom W

Jacques – your post, as well as your blog, is a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I say there is no ‘truth’ in public policy.

Consider this science example – dark matter vs. MOND. Each has their proponents, and each has data that support their conclusions/predictions. But only one side is right, we just don’t yet know for sure which one (although the balance of opinion is on one side).

Public policy has the same features – except absolute truth. There is no ‘right’ way to govern a population of people. But lots of people, and in particular very well educated people, like to think that truth exists and their side has a monopoly on that truth.

There is a post on your blog talking about the deficit and its conclusion is the Bush-era tax cuts are responsible. Lots of nice facts and data to support your conclusions, it is very well done. Only one problem – you don’t discuss the spending side of the equation. One could also argue, as many have, that steep spending increases are to blame for the deficit and back it up with all sorts of data. That argument would be equally as correct as your argument.

The difference is personal preferences. I, personally, prefer to live in a society governed by a small, limited government. I infer, based on your writings, that you prefer a much larger, more activist government. Are either of us ‘right’? No, but we each have to make the case to our fellow citizens and try to convince them to follow us.

Which brings me back to your comment, where you make two declarative statements purporting to be of fact: Greece’s central problem is they don’t control their monetary policy, and growing government spending in a recession is standard macroeconomic wisdom from the Great Depression. However, those are both statements which originate from a more liberal political view of economics and public policy. One could easily say, and be equally right, that Greece’s central problem is too much spending. And if you’ve figured out the Great Depression you should be on Wall Street, not in Austin, because its causes and implications have been the subject of much study and debate.

It feels like I’ve hi-jacked this thread, and it wasn’t my intention, but my point remains the same. Science and public policy advocacy don’t mix, and just because someone has an extensive background in and knowledge of, for example, physics, doesn’t mean s/he is equally well versed in public policy. And on a science blog, unless the author states his party/preference/position up front, the two shouldn’t mix.

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

One could also argue, as many have, that steep spending increases are to blame for the deficit and back it up with all sorts of data.

One could argue that, but one would have a hard time backing it up with actual data.

Spending (even including the TARP and the Stimulus package, which both produced temporary upward blips) has tracked its pre-recession trend. Revenues fell off a cliff, and have not recovered. That is the source of our current, large deficits.

Yes, you are entitled to your own set of preferences for the optimal size of Government. You are not, however, entitled to your own set of facts.

I agree that we have drifted off-topic.

• Tom W

Jacques – from the portions of your blog that I’ve read, I understand you to be an intelligent man. Having said that, you appear to be misunderstanding my entire point. Politics is about preferences. Your link leads the reader to Krugman’s blog. He is a Nobel Prize winning economist. More importantly, however, to our current discussion is the fact that he is a partisan liberal. You throw out a Krugman citation and I can throw a Friedman citation right back at you. Or, if you’d prefer a more timely and thorough analysis, Google this: USA, Inc (http://www.kpcb.com/usainc/USA_Inc.pdf). It’s roughly 46o slides worth of analysis on the US’s current fiscal stance. Interesting reading no matter what side of the political isle you find yourself. And it comprehensively analyzes the spending increases (think entitlements!) that have us in our current predicament.

And as you’re an intelligent man, I shouldn’t have to explain the fallacy in your argument. Yes revenues have fallen off due to the recession (and also, arguably, the Bush tax cuts, although depending on your opinion of where we are on the Laffer curve, tax cuts can actually increase government revenue) – but during that time spending has increased! Say, for example, you are forced to take a pay cut at work and at the same time decide to buy a new SUV which, by the way, you couldn’t have afforded if you still had your older, higher salary. By your logic, your household deficit is caused by the pay cut, not the decision to buy a new vehicle, when clearly both forces are at play.

There are two sides to a balance sheet – that was the rather simple, pedantic argument I attempted to make. But you couldn’t let that one go! And my point was not to say that you’re wrong, although I certainly do think so. My point was that in almost every public policy debate, there are two VALID sides to an issue, and neither one is necessarily right.

If your preference is, as I suspect, a large activist government, then say it proudly! But please don’t accuse me of inventing or ignoring facts when in fact it’s policy preferences that separate us.

And I think, if nothing else, that this whole discussion has illustrated why science blogs should, in almost all circumstances, shy away from public policy.

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

You throw out a Krugman citation and I can throw a Friedman citation right back at you.

Not if what you said about the Great Depression is any guide. Milton Friedman understood the causes of the Great Depression.

Uncle Milton would call you nuts for advocating spending cutbacks in the middle of a recession.

Yes revenues have fallen off due to the recession (and also, arguably, the Bush tax cuts, although depending on your opinion of where we are on the Laffer curve, tax cuts can actually increase government revenue)

“Which side of the Laffer curve” we are on, is not (or should not be) a function of one’s ideological persuasion. To assert that it is, is the sort of thing that really ticks me off. Sorry, but I’m funny that way…

My point was that in almost every public policy debate, there are two VALID sides to an issue, and neither one is necessarily right.

In any public policy debate, there are, inevitably, multiple sides to an issue. What we should do about a given set of facts is a matter on which reasonable people may disagree.

Disagreeing about what the facts are, is quite a different matter.

“[S]teep spending increases” is a factual statement about the rate of change of government expenditures. It is a statement that can be compared with actual rate of change of government expenditures. That’s what the graph on Krugman’s blog (not his graph, the St Louis Fed’s graph) does. You may decide that you don’t want to look at the graph, because Krugman is a liberal, but that doesn’t actually affect the rate of change of government expenditures over recent years.

And it comprehensively analyzes the spending increases (think entitlements!) that have us in our current predicament.

“Entitlements” is much too vague a term. There is one threat to our long-term budgetary outlook, that makes everything else irrelevant: Medicare.

Fix Medicare’s cost growth, and you’ve fixed the long-term budgetary crunch. Don’t fix it, and nothing else you do makes any difference.

I recommend reading carefully the Medicare section of that USA-Inc pdf that you linked-to. The rest of it is irrelevant fluff.

In any case, that has absolutely nothing to do with current deficits, or the proper response to the Great Recession.

Say, for example, you are forced to take a pay cut at work and at the same time decide to buy a new SUV … By your logic, your household deficit is caused by the pay cut, not the decision to buy a new vehicle, when clearly both forces are at play.

Say I had previously accumulated a healthy nest-egg. Would my SUV purchase still be immoral (since your argument seems to be a moral, rather than a financial one)?

Perhaps I squandered that nest-egg by buying rounds for my drinking buddies. But, say my local bank were willing to loan me the money to purchase the SUV at, say, 2%/yr for a 5-year term — an interest rate well below what anyone else in the neighbourhood can get? Would it still be immoral for me to purchase the SUV?

Or, more personally, do you own a home? If so, your mortgage is probably many times your annual net income. And, yet, you’re not worried. Why is that?

• http://skeptikai.com Skeptikai

Just in case anyone didn’t know by now, the earthquake was retroactively upgrade to a M9.0 on the richter scale. I’m still feeling the aftershocks today. There was one half an hour ago.

• Tom W

Jacques – this debate is interesting to me because I think it illustrates a point I made in my response to your first comment. I may be mischaracterizing your views a bit, but you seem to think there is ‘truth’ in public policy and yours views more closely match that truth than do those on the other side of the isle. You use what purport to be statements of fact (“has absolutely nothing to do with out current deficits”) that are fact statements that reflect policy preferences. I can’t decide whether or not it’s purposeful, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume bias is clouding your thinking.

For example, you seem to indicate that my use of the term ‘steep spending increases’ isn’t factual. I will stipulate that ‘steep’ is subjective and a matter of opinion. ‘Spending increases’ is a factual statement and one you do not dispute, apparently. Also note that I referred in that sentence to the debt, not the deficit, two different but related things.

The rest of your discussion of that subject is based on policy preferences – you think TARP and the stimulus was a good idea and have a theory and data to back it up. A perfectly reasonable position. Others think that they were a bad idea, and have a theory and data to back that up. Another perfectly reasonable position. Economics in particular and public policy in general are not fields where, like the hard sciences, hypothesis can be falsified by experiment and exact forcasts can be made about future outcomes.

Is democracy preferable to communism? Most Americans would say yes, but it’s not a question that can be answered scientifically. Was the stimulus preferable to inaction? We won’t ever know, but Obama had an economic team od advisors forecasting all kinds of great benefits that never came to pass. They had predictions based on calculations and models derived from their own viewpoint/theories/biases. Again this is perfectly reasonable.

But what you fail to do is give any credence to is the reasonableness of arguments from the other side. My last comment implored you to admit that a deficit has two components, spending and revenue. You not only wouldn’t do that, you went on an irrelevant tangent about driking buddies and terms of a car loan. I also asked you to state outright what your policy preferences were with respect to the size and activity level of the federal government, and you chose not to.

If we cant at least agree to argue from a common starting point, using common language, then we have no place left to go.

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

‘Spending increases’ is a factual statement and one you do not dispute, apparently.

Actually, I do.

Goverment spending, as a fraction of GDP, has stayed more-or-less level for a generation. It was 36.3%, in 1983 under Ronald Reagan. 25 years later, in 2008 (the last year for which I have that data on-hand), it was 36.9%.

Perhaps it is your policy preference that Government spending, as a fraction of GDP, shrink over time, and that any failure to so-shrink is a “steep increase.”

Of course, it’s true that GDP shrank, during the recession, while spending continued along its pre-recession trendline (roughly 6%, in nominal dollars, corresponding to an inflation rate of 3% and a “target” real GDP growth rate of an additional 3%).

Goverment spending doesn’t jump up and down, like a yoyo, in response to the ebb-and-flow of GDP. Apparently, you believe that its failure to shrink during times of recession is a “steep increase.”

The rest of your discussion of that subject is based on policy preferences – you think TARP and the stimulus was a good idea and have a theory and data to back it up.

The only “policy preference”, at play here, is a preference for higher GDP and lower unemployment. I, mistakenly, assumed that was a policy preference that you shared. I should not make such assumptions, in the future.

A perfectly reasonable position. Others think that they were a bad idea, and have a theory and data to back that up.

No, sorry.

There is no macroeconomic model under which the stimulus was a “bad idea” (in the sense that it lead to lower GDP or higher unemployment than would otherwise have been the case). Different models disagree on the magnitude of the impact it had. There is no disagreement about the sign.

You not only wouldn’t do that, you went on an irrelevant tangent about driking [sic] buddies and terms of a car loan.

Sigh. Subtlety will get me absolutely nowhere.

I was alluding to the sustainability of our debt-to-GDP ratio, as measured by the interest rate demanded by potential creditors, to be willing to lend us money. Right now, the interest rate on US Treasuries (I used the 5-year note, as an example) is below the projected rate of inflation — people are willing to pay us for the privilege of lending us money.

But what you fail to do is give any credence to is the reasonableness of arguments from the other side

When I hear a reasonable argument, I’ll give it credence. So far, I haven’t heard any.

If we cant at least agree to argue from a common starting point, using common language, then we have no place left to go.

Exactly so.

If we can’t even agree on the basic facts, indeed, if you believe that economics is merely “policy preferences” dressed up with mathematics, to make it look more persuasive, there there really isn’t anything for us to discuss.

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

Just to be clear, the above figures for “government spending” included Federal, State and local spending.

During the same period, Federal spending “increased steeply” (as Tom W would put it) from 23.5% of GDP in 1983 to 20.5% of GDP in 2008.

• Fred Willcutt

“In any public policy debate, there are, inevitably, multiple sides to an issue. What we should do about a given set of facts is a matter on which reasonable people may disagree.
Disagreeing about what the facts are, is quite a different matter.”

If the world was as straight forward and simple as the preceding quote pretends, I’d wear rainbows every day. The limitation on thinking capable of enabling the mind of a scientist to operate with enough certainty for declarative statements of truth to be made rebelliously in the face of common sense can only be the result of an ignorance to the very reason to differentiate these domains.

A Scientist, as noble as his field and pursuits are, is commonly perceived by those belonging to other areas of endeavor as quick to make very unscientific assumptions associated with areas that may be contrary to the goals of Science. Fortunately, for the sake of truth in knowledge and its proper organization, Science allows for certain types of assumptions to be made within its domain because of elements intrinsic to its very methods and nature. The most obvious assumption is that the intent of peers aligns with the purpose of science, regardless of placement within the social hierarchy. This is safe to assume, as corrupted motivations are mostly irrelevant in science when it comes down to the legitimacy behind a declaration of truth – reason behind direction does not distort the truth discovered along the road.

As an example in random, the goal of one person engaged in political pursuits can often be quite different than that of his/her peer – with each strategically characterizing causation behind a specificity within a complex system consisting of an unknown quantity of agents and actors, with no way to differentiate – all both affecting and being a part of the system in question. A system with its state and movement defined dynamically by elements both known and unknown, with no consensus of desired state. Without even the consensus on under what values the quality of this state would be judged, or even that there is value in truth.
The unknowns that are both feared and exploited in the political realm will never be determined by Science – if it knows what’s good for its own survival. A scientist’s assumptions are naive in a world of relativity without any known variables. The ‘facts’ chosen for an argument are usually assembled for an analysis promulgated to advance the _popularity_ of an idea that a politician may be disseminating to create conditions more favorable to his career, but even that is assuming an agenda that includes his desire to advance his career. That is not known.

The usually effective peer-review system allows for something of a self-governing consensus maker amongst a community advancing towards a shared goal rooted in truth. As a politician I could make policy that may alter institutional structure leading towards a reorganization of scientific specializations that may interact in a way that spawns innovation which changes societal discourse more akin to my liking. In this hypothetical situation you could assemble all the facts using the scientific method and bring about legitimate consensus related in some way to an ‘issue’. The issue, however, is delivered to you. The relevance of the issue defined according to a politically advanced value system structured to serve its function. This ‘issue’ that happens to fall within the specialized focus area of your study domain was prioritized politically – its importance only relative to an agenda outside your view. The relationship between science and politics as been complex and mysterious from the get-go. The only sure thing is the futility of a Scientist that allows for their convergence while still expecting consideration or respect by others who continue to do Science.

Also – ‘Political Science’ is not really Science, it just allows itself the liberty to employ the word’s usage by using its political associations.

“If we can’t even agree on the basic facts, indeed, if you believe that economics is merely “policy preferences” dressed up with mathematics, to make it look more persuasive, there there really isn’t anything for us to discuss.”

Hopefully it won’t throw you into too much disarray when you reach the point in your life where you have the maturity to accept the world as it is, which is most definitely one where the ‘basic facts’ dictate the vast difference between what’s considered the relative importance of, or the desired state of, the reasons behind some configuration or another of a certain operating principles behind one particular method of organizing this complex system. I’d hate to see someone’s naive worldview fall apart when coming to terms with the fact that the agents and actors within the one group in this system which shares the desire for maintaining this particular configuration may not share the goal of a ‘greater good’. The luxury of a ‘common language’ consisting of words with meanings they all share would be the last thing ever acquired in that system, and the first thing lost in the new order that arises.

If you have an actual expectation for political arguments between stakeholders to share the same standards, rules, language, goals or even definition of reality – you have a fantastic conception of the world that you’ve idealized with childlike impressions that ignore even initial glances of Hegel, Marx, Machiavelli, dialectic, and so on. Please don’t try to be a helmsman while insisting the reality of the world is in the form of your ideation – just trust me when I say the changes you would like for the greater good will make the world worse, even with your good intentions.

Sorry – I’ve rambled and most likely didn’t convince you of anything at all. My emotions were stirred while reading your responses to TomW’s reasoned offerings. I shouldn’t have tried to assist him.

I shouldn’t have forgotten the fundamentals of cosmic variance.

• Tom W

Jacques – I was traveling for a few days and stepped away from the argument, but I see Fred W has picked it up nicely.

For the four people on the Internet still reading this comment thread (you, me, Fred, and my girlfriend – and even her patience is waning) I’d like to try to sum up the arguments.

This all started when a science blog made a cheap public policy shot at the HOR. I implored the authors to stick with science, as there is no objective truth in debates over public policy. You interjected and have spent the better part of a week trying to convince me that not only is there objective truth in public policy debates about economics, you are the keeper of this truth. I think your argument can be fairly summed up by the following statement: when I hear a reasonable argument, I’ll give it credence. Translation – when I hear an argument I agree with, we can talk.

You have, I think, perfectly illustrated my point that science and public policy don’t mix. For that I thank you. You have an economic philosophy (interesting that you haven’t mentioned Keynes) and speak as though the insights offered by that philosophy were absolute truths. You make no room (none!) for competing theories or arguments. And you define your terms (spending, for example) to better fit your argument, and respond only to those points you are most comfortable rebutting (go back and take a look at which statements/questions of mine you chose not to answer).

These are not the characteristics of a scientist, or someone with intellectual honesty. They are the characteristics of a believer – someone convinced their view of the world is the only acceptable one. In religion, or politics, this is perfectly normal. As a believer, it makes perfect sense for you to quibble over the term ‘spending increases.’ Someone with intellectual honesty might say ‘you’re right, spending has increased while our tax revenues have gone down but I don’t think it’s an issue because…”. Instead of attempting to convince me that my argument isn’t as effective as your argument, the believer tries to demonstrate that I have no argument at all!

I would venture a guess that your own state of Texas would disagree. I’ve lived there on an off for the last 12 years and, despite this economy, they are doing very well compared to a state like California whose policies,I suspect, better mirror your own preferences. Note that I’m not making an argument here for the correctness of either one, but I am trying to open your mind a little and convince you there is an argument to be made.

Which brings me to the point I made rather uneloquently at the end of my last comment. Until you concede that the other side has a valid argument, we have no place left to go. And we certainly shouldn’t do it on a science blog as we have left the realm of science long ago.

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

I implored the authors to stick with science, as there is no objective truth in debates over public policy.

Really? None?

In what sense, then, ought I “give credence” to your arguments? If there’s not so much as a grain of truth in them, the best I can imagine doing is to credit you for their being rhetorically well-constructed.

And, conversely.

Yes, it’s all very congenial for you to compliment me on my arguments. But, if you don’t believe a word of them (or even the premises on which they are based), then such compliments ring hollow.

I think your argument can be fairly summed up by the following statement: when I hear a reasonable argument, I’ll give it credence. Translation – when I hear an argument I agree with, we can talk.

Correct translation: “When I hear an argument based on non-counterfactual premises, then we can talk.” It doesn’t matter whether I agree with the argument, so long as we can agree that we are arguing from a common set of facts.

For that I thank you. You have an economic philosophy (interesting that you haven’t mentioned Keynes) and speak as though the insights offered by that philosophy were absolute truths.

Actually, my understanding of recessions is closer to Milton Friedman’s than to John Maynard Keynes’s. Interesting that you should invoke Friedman’s name, whilst making arguments that contradict everything Friedman ever wrote.

You make no room (none!) for competing theories or arguments. And you define your terms (spending, for example) to better fit your argument, and respond only to those points you are most comfortable rebutting (go back and take a look at which statements/questions of mine you chose not to answer).

You have advanced no competing theory. If you want to advance one, I’d be happy to discuss it. Mere contrary assertions do not a theory make.

As to statements of yours that I chose not to answer, I tried to avoid wandering off on tangents (“Is democracy preferable to communism?”). If you feel that, in so doing, I’ve failed to respond to some important point of yours, please feel free to point it out to me, and I’ll try to address it.

Until you concede that the other side has a valid argument, we have no place left to go. And we certainly shouldn’t do it on a science blog as we have left the realm of science long ago.

Actually, this is quite relevant. Epistemic relativism appears to have become the default intellectual pose of American conservatives. If anyone thinks that their epistemic relativism is restricted to “non-scientific” issues of public policy, I have two words for you: “global warming.”

• Tom W

Jacques –

You call it a tangent (the question about which is preferable, Democracy or Communism) but it illustrates the central point of my thesis. Point me to the Nature article describing the outcomes of the experiment demonstrating the universal preference for Democracy over Communism. You can’t. Point me to a similar article which demonstrates scientifically that keeping abortion legal is better public policy than making it illegal.

Those are easy examples, economics is a bit more tricky because of all the nice numbers and statistics. But in the end the big decisions still revolve around public policy, which Democrats look at differently than Republicans, the US looks at differently than China, and so on. This seems to me so basic a point that I’m not sure I understand your resistance to it. Both Think Progress and, for example, CATO have very smart people working for them on issues of economics and public policy, yet these smart thinkers come to radically different conclusions.

Nowhere on this page have I advocated a competing theory – that was never my point. My argument has been simply that competing theories exist and in the realm of public policy no theories can be scientifically proven to be ‘correct.’

You seem to be trying to wiggle out of admitting that point by saying competing theories are based on counterfactual premises. And I suppose if you define ‘facts’ then from your perspective that would make sense. I say spending has increased, you say it hasn’t – depending on how you define ‘spending’. You can’t have it both ways – calling arguments I’ve not advanced counterfactual based on your definition of the facts.

All of which illustrates, once again, the folly of debating public policy on a science blog. At least scientists use commonly defined ‘facts.’

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

Nowhere on this page have I advocated a competing theory – that was never my point. My argument has been simply that competing theories exist and in the realm of public policy no theories can be scientifically proven to be ‘correct.’

Nowhere, in Science, are theories ever “proven to be ‘correct.’” Instead, theories are confronted with the evidence, and shown to be incorrect.

That happens all the time, too, in Economics. (I suggest perusing some Economics journals, to familiarize yourself with what the field actually looks like.)

• Tom W

Jacques –

You asked me before to tell you when you were evading a point by selectively commenting on my posts. Now is that time – you have failed, repeatedly, to address my thesis which I attempt to lay out (again!) in paragraphs 1 and 2 of my last comment. Please agree or explain your disagreement with these paragraphs.

I also don’t appreciate the condescention. I’ve tried to be exceedingly tolerant of your viewpoints despite the fact that neither economics nor public policy is your primary field of study (although public policy is mine). At no point have I dismissed your arguments or suggested you brush up on some fundamentals (although I’ll admit to coming close to that line in an early comment).

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

I cannot see what non-trivial point is being made in your first paragraph. My best response, “Yes, no, … whatever!” would be as inarticulate as it would be unsatisfying.

As to your second paragraph, that is the crux of our disagreement, and I had mistakenly assumed that I had made my position clear.

My Economist friends, and the (large) number of Economics papers I have read, formulate quantitative models, and confront those models with empirical data. Their methods are instantly recognizable, to any Physicist, as those of Science. No one (least of all, my Economist friends) would claim that they have achieved the same level of success that we Physicists have achieved. The systems they study are vastly more complicated, and the ability to collect good data is vastly more limited. But the spirit of the enterprise is unmistakable.

To assert, as you have done, that Physics is all about “objective facts”, whereas Economics is nothing more than partisan hackery … ‘scuse me … “policy preferences”, dolled up with “nice numbers and statistics”, is to seriously misconstrue the nature of both fields.

And the obvious corollary of your position — that one can, and should, conjure up “valid” economic arguments, in favour of whatever policy preferences one wishes to advance — is one to which I strenuously object.

You say that your field is public policy. I can truly say that I am disappointed, but not at all surprised, that you evince such a cavalier attitude towards one of the few sources of useful guidance to the crafting of effective public policy. Without knowing you at all, I can confidently predict that policy recommendations, that you produce, are demonstrably worse for it. Not, as you seem to think, because I disagree with your politics (though, doubtless, I do), but because I disagree with your methods.

• http://www.physicsmyths.org.uk Thomas Smid

@Zombie (#3):

The depth of the water affects the velocity of the wave. See http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/watwav.html#c3 . Note that in this case the shallow water limit has to applied because the wave is excited from the bottom rather than from the top as for wind-excited surface waves. So the velocity is proportional to the square root of the water depth here.

Thomas

• AnotherSean

Jacques: I hadn’t seen this post until now, and I wish I could have participated in this debate. Your reasoning is absolutely correct in my view. Prudent fiscal policy is primarily aimed at secureing future sources of revenue, and your opponents have not distinguished household budget concerns from macroeconomics. This of course was the same problem for Herbert Hoover, and apparently the lessons of history have failed to make much of an impact.

• http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

This of course was the same problem for Herbert Hoover, and apparently the lessons of history have failed to make much of an impact.

“Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately, some of them seem to be hell-bent on inflicting their folly on the rest of us.

As to your having “missed the party,” there’s plenty more where TomW came from; I’m sure the opportunity will arise again.

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