28 Feb 2013

Publish or perish -- or lose money for nothing?

[Warning. Long post.]

This recent piece described the "disintermediation" of publishers as writers found ways to directly reach readers (e.g., this blog), but some people still put a lot of weight on "published" papers and books.

Academic Deans, for example, hire and promote professors based on the number and quality of publications. Putative professors know this, and they put a lot of effort (a year on average) into each paper that's published in journals.

The publish or perish system worked pretty well in the (perhaps imaginary) past, where deans and other professors would be able to judge a candidate's portfolio by reading the papers and noting the journals where they appeared, but this system broke down when more and more professors tried to get published: topics narrowed and journals multiplied to the point where nobody knew what was going on.

Deans and the like started to rely on shortcuts for assessing past progress and judging researchers' futures; they merely counted papers and multiplied them by the "impact factors" of the journals in which they appeared.*

That laziness provided an opening for so-called "predatory publishers" who promised to publish authors' work... for a fee. I discussed these Nigerian scammers in this post, which also led me to Jeffrey Beall's excellent blog on open access publishing and the scams associated with it.

All of these thoughts sprang to the front of my mind when I got this email:
The Journal of Sustainable Watershed Science and Management, JSWSM, is an open access medium for the dissemination of original research articles as well as review articles related to sustainable watershed science and management. We are planning to publish a special issue, March 2013, on Water Allocation and Water Rights. You are invited to submit an article related to your work on Water Rights and Human Rights: The Poor Will Not Need our Charity if We Need their Water.

Journal of Sustainable Watershed Science and Management is a multi-disciplinary Scientific Journal which recognizes watershed as the management unit within which natural resources and environmental management issues are addressed in integrated approaches involving physical, biological, socio-economical, legal and policy prospective as they relate to sustainability. It also recognizes sustainability as a dynamic concept which accommodates all forms of change (e.g., climate, population, land use).

Published articles at JSWSM are ready accessed online without the need for a subscription.

Manuscripts should be submitted online here. I also would appreciate if you can recommend it to other colleagues.
At first, I was excited, since the call matched my paper, and I'm always happy to move a "finished" paper to "published." But then I clicked on the link and looked around. I was worried by the overall "look" of the site [click around, you'll see too many 404s]. Strike two was the lack of any social scientists on the the Board of Advisers. Strike three was that I could get published in march if I submitted by 31 Jan, i.e., "instant acceptance." Strike four? Atlas Publishing, LP was on Beall's list of predatory publishers.

So I emailed (asking "Please explain how Atlas is NOT a predatory publisher...") and got this reply from (Abdel)majid Kassem of Atlas:
First, thank you for your interest in publishing your work with Atlas Publishing. Second, most of the claims in the website below are not applicable to Atlas Publishing journals which are of high quality with high quality editorial boards. For each journal, the Editor-in-Chief is the one that takes decision about accepted manuscripts in the journal. All articles are peer-reviewed by experts in their fields.

We will look into the website [Beall's] and contact its owner/author. Authors including yourself are free to submit (or not to submit) their articles to Atlas journals. If you have any more specific question, please let us know.
To this I replied:
(1) Is your journal open access? Is there a fee to publish, either way?

(2) What's your acceptance rate % and impact rating?
Majid replied with:
(1) Yes, all our journals are Open Access. This is the way to go from now on. I just came from the Plant and Animal Genome Conference XXI in San Diego and there was a Plenary Session about the OA vs. the traditional way of publishing... It was outstanding. And as you know more and more Governmental Agencies are encouraging OA. The answer to the second part of your question is yes. Atlas journals charge authors or their institutions a small fee of $309.99 to cover the expenses of running the website, etc.

(2) It depends on the journal. For JSWSM, I think it is around 60-65% but I have to dig in to get the exact number.
Now I was convinced that the journal was not as scholarly as I'd like ($310 to maintain a website?), and told them that I'd pass on submitting for the special issue (literally "I'll pass"). Majid replied with:
As you know, different people have different opinions about different things and this applies to Publishers and journals as well. I respect Dr. Beall's opinion a bout Atlas Publishing; however, I disagree with his assessment.

We are one of many publishers in the OA world and we will remain committed to our mission. Again, authors can make their own choices about where to publish their work and that is fine.
I replied:
Yes, opinions vary, but I am interested in clear expectations and results.

Can you tell me how many authors have submitted a second paper to your journal(s). Any how many of them are published two or more times?

I'd like to get their opinion -- as authors -- of Atlas, so any email contacts would be welcomed.
To this email, Majid gave me the eight emails, and I send this to them:
Subject: Is the Journal of Sustainable Watershed Science and Management legitimate or a scam?

Dear colleagues,

The publisher and managing editor of JSWSM (cc'd) gave me your emails after I inquired for the names of authors who have multiple publication at this journal.

I am curious to know if you think that publication with JSWSM has been both legitimate and productive to your academic research. Or is the journal -- and Atlas Publishing -- more of a scam vehicle (Beall is also cc'd)?

I know that we face a lot of pressure to publish or perish these days, and I really don't care about the name of the journal as much as a good refereeing process and decent distribution mechanism, but there are a number of shady journals popping up that offer publication for a fee that's more about income than academic integrity.

Atlas charges $309.99 to "pay for the website," for example...

So, please do give me your opinions, experiences and thoughts on these matters.

And, yes, I know that you may have a favorable bias due to past publication, so tell me if you'd recommend this journal to a colleague (e.g., chair of your department) or submit there again.
One of them sent a long reply, which I include here with my replies in italics:
Dear Dr. Zetland and Beall,

Following your email to me; I asked for your communications with/about Atlas Publishing to be forwarded to me and I am giving you here the answers you are looking for:

1. Unlike your claim of the Nigerian scam, we live in the US where every penny is to be reported to the IRS, therefore, try to keep some credibility by learning to compare Apple vs Apple and more important to be fair:

Atlas Publishing is registered in the US, NC, ATlas Tax return (public info) is that shows income and expenses is a public record (Ref: ATLAS PUBLISHING LP; EIN # 27-4313913).

You will discover that For 2011, Atlas's income was $3001, $2187; Net income $814) I do not think that Dr. Kassem will be rich from this business, knowing the amount of hours he is putting into this, he is better off mowing his neighbour grass 10 hours a year to make more than the $814.

I am glad to see that Dr. Kassem is not in this for the money, rather for scholarly inquiry, but those figures divided by the submission fee of $310 implies that Atlas published about 9 papers in 2011. Is that possible for one journal, let alone several? Or did some authors not pay? [Turns out Atlas published 4 in 2011 and 5 in 2012.]

By the way Dr. Beall:Dr. Kassem is an American citizen, he did not forget his Moroccan origins "Knowing that Moroccans who helped the allies first getting rid of the Nazi's in world word II, did help building most of western Europe after the War and are now suffering from xenophobia and racism in Dr. Zetland's wonderful country: Holland").

Dr. Kassem is proud of his heritage and is always looking forward to support minorities and under-represented groups; and I will give you now the motivations behind his dedication to open access publishing, and I fully support it)

I agree, of course, and there's nothing in my words, emails or thoughts about ANYONE's nationality. It's a pity that there are racists in the US, NL and Morocco, but I am not one of them. This is about SCHOLARSHIP.

2. Atlas was created to help and assist and connect labs and researchers in developing countries and poor laboratories in the world (believe me, you will find labs and scientist who can not afford paying access to publications also in the US and most Western Europe) with other scientists in the world, to publish, get connected and access to the world of research and science without having to pay the heavy fess/taxes/toll imposed by the big publishing companies.

Thats why Atlas prices were low to accommodate certain clientele that do not have that luxury. In fact, exemptions were given to lot of scientists who published with Atlas, and you are welcome to check into that.

Perhaps these exceptions explain the lack of revenue? It's difficult, I understand, to get a journal going, but perhaps it's better to have an editorial board and good reviews BEFORE accepting papers? Reputation, after all, is more important than revenues. The reason that I decided NOT to submit my paper is that I want a good vetting system. I can distribute the working paper, for free, if quality does not matter....

3. Atlas Publishing web site has been hacked frequently lately, I wonder why someone care about a small web publishing house to hack their web site frequently, if its not to try to destroy web publishing and open access from its root.

No idea. Change your password?

4. I understand that the big guys (the big publishing houses and of course some librarians) are loosing little share of this market to the online open access and of course with this, some people are worried about their job security, however, I subscribe to the philosophy that scientific publications should be accessible for free to help science to be accessible to everyone.

And I agree with you, and so does Jeffrey. Librarians are suffering the most from excessive subscription fees, as you know. See this.

5. If you are bothered by ATlas publishing's statement: APLP is committed to The Open Access Movement initiated by several corporations, publishers, and nonprofit organizations such as Biomed Central (BMC), the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and many others. Dr. Kassem is not going to change it.

Nor should he. He only needs to attain PLoS levels of quality...

Now, I suggest that you take your intimidation's somewhere else, we live in a free country, where people from different origins could claim to the top, and could have dreams such as being President of the great Nation on earth. Again and its free country and so will be the future of accessing published work!

I am not sending any intimidation. I am a scholar and I ask questions. Atlas has to show its bona fides if it's going to claim legitimacy and get off Beall's list of predatory publishers (moved, perhaps, to a list of not quite professional publishers).

Yes, the US is a free country, but that doesn't include freedom to lie. I'm not saying that anyone here is; I am saying that freedom only works with trust and transparency.

Atlas Publishing is small, with few editors behind it, but, everything start small and grow with the time. Open Access is the way to go!!!.

I hope that this email clarify things Dr. Beall will remove ATlas Publishing from his famous web list, I wounder who is funding that web site?

I will let Beall decide who to keep and who to remove, but WordPress accounts cost less than $100 per year. I'm guessing that he, like me, pays his own costs...
I got nothing from them after that.

Bottom Line: It's difficult to say who's a scammer and who isn't in this fast-developing area of institutional failure (and there have been lawsuits by those disinclined to show their bona fides), but I've learned two things: (1) BOTH readers and authors need beware academic journals that are not; (2) I'm glad that blogging is faster, more transparent and free :)

* I co-authored a paper describing these problems and proposing a solution (auctions) that would improve the quality of papers, the match between papers and journals, and valuing the importance of papers and authors' careers.
Addendum: Do not take this post as an attack on innovation in publishing or better options for authors; it's also not a defense of incumbents that have their own problems [see this and this]. I am just trying to point out the importance of craft in the academic world, i.e., doing it right.

27 Feb 2013

Jobs, Tunnels and the Delta

RM sent me this press release, which says that peripheral tunnels would create 136,000 jobs and "net 15,000" jobs in the Delta, etc.

First, jobs are COSTS, not benefits. Give me $1million and I could create twenty $50,000 jobs for stoners who would play video games.

Second, "net" jobs are not the kinds of jobs that farmers want. Those are jobs for restoration ecologists (and guys with shovels) that outnumber the unemployed farmers.

Third, I wonder if it wouldn't be easier and cheaper to STOP exporting water from the Delta, "employ" lots of people to restore the ecosystem, AND hire lots of people south of the Delta to turn now unirrigated farms into pasture with cows. Hee haw!

Fourth, Dave Sunding is a great guy, and I am sure he deserves his fees for these studies, but don't forget how people screw up these job numbers.

Bottom Line: Don't tell me about jobs from the tunnel. Tell me who's going to pay for it, and who's going to get paid off for the destruction of their existing life (paper)
Addendum: Someone more knowledgeable than me lays out ten facts about the Delta.

Question of the week

In the US, the Democratic party tolerates small time crooks (e.g., welfare cheats) but Republicans tolerate big time crooks (e.g., bailed-out bankers).

Or do both parties basically work for the one percent? For the military-industrial complex, big agribusiness, the housing mafia, and so on.

Please comment.

Anything but water

  1. Just as I thought (he who lives by the sword dies by the sword): Government controls on ethanol means that there's now too much capacity for refining corn into ethanol in the US. Since the "market" is limited to 10 percent blends, refiners are going bankrupt (there's also a funny sad description of how EPA allowed 15 percent blends, but with a formula that made the allowance useless).

  2. A recruiter gives good advice on how to get a job.

  3. Really great podcast discussing how Wall Streeters do not care about (1) economic efficiency or (2) clients in their quest to profit from excessive trading volumes and volatility -- not adding value!

  4. This blog post on the Keystone XL points out that the Keystone is neither the cause nor solution to global warming. I agree and go further: That oil is going to get to the market, one way or another. If you want to "stop" climate change, then REDUCE demand via carbon taxes.

  5. Read the "Draft Report of the Joint UNECE/Eurostat/OECD Task Force on Measuring Sustainable Development" [pdf] if you're interested in measuring or managing sustainable development!

26 Feb 2013

The danger of flashing wrong signals

Have you heard the stories of people who have driven through fields, into lakes or off cliffs while following their GPS units? Any outsider would have told them to use their common sense before making a right turn over a cliff, but are WE so wise when it comes to our indicators?

Although the water sector really needs more and better information (that's why I founded the water data hub*), I worry about people putting the wrong weight on the wrong information -- a worry that puts these recent stories into a different context:Now, I'm not worried about the discussion of water risk. I think that it's a topic of growing importance, as the end of abundance exposes business models, bureaucratic assumptions and personal habits formed in an era of too much, too cheap water to a new reality of scarce water that cannot be taken for granted.

What I worry about is the arrival of over-simplified models of risk and tools for "managing" risk, and the damage that may result from the naive application or use of these models.

I worry, for example, of what might happen if:
  • Some 25 year-old bets your pension based on "data" from his Bloomberg terminal (Bloomberg partners with WRI).
  • Banks or governments allocate investments based on the IBM-model of risk.
  • Investors move their money based on Ceres' risk warnings.
All of these actions may be valid in their consideration of the information at hand, but what if they are paying too much attention to what's in the index while missing what's NOT in it?

I'd put a lot more weight on:
  • Local institutions for managing water. They determine the difference between drought and shortage.
  • Political and regulatory interventions (i.e., "regulatory risk") that outweigh natural risk by an order of magnitude.
  • The importance of funding local water projects with local money -- especially when it comes to knowing the people who are spending your money.

Each of these factors, IMO, are significant, and each can overwhelm any number that you get from a risk model.

Bottom Line: Caveat emptor! Risk in the water world is not so much about nature or market forces, but the arbitrary, illogical, unaccountable and uncertain ideas and actions of politicians and bureaucrats who drive water management (and cause 90 percent of the mismanagement).
* The WDH does not worry me because it's merely a way of finding data (is yours linked?). People can then interpret the data any way they want.

H/Ts to BB

25 Feb 2013

Monday funnies

ER sent this (old but good) cartoon [besides the green jobs BS] but read this article for the not-so-funny impacts of CC, i.e., we're headed to +3C (and maybe +5C!). Be prepared!

Speed blogging

  1. The Dutch don't fuck around on flood control -- they move people out of the way. The Chinese don't either, but their moves lack social legitimacy because they favor special interests (e.g., Beijing) instead of the nation as a whole.

  2. Good articles with nice photos on the living/dying Colorado Delta and struggle to "manage" sediments.

  3. As a follow up on this 2009 post, Walter Bauer sent this video (WMV, right click to save) that describes how "nanobubbles" on water molecules will reduce deposits on pipes, etc. and thus contamination. Love to hear what chemists and engineers think of this.*

  4. A good study [pdf] of the cross-subsidies from urban to ag users (on cost and quality) in Florida. They wouldn't grow sugar if farmers paid their share of costs.

  5. Interesting description of how residents in Davis, CA changed their water tariffs to pay for capital improvements. It would have been simpler if they just shifted to 100% uniform rate volumetric pricing, but that would annoy managers who like stable cash flows.
H/Ts to CB and RM

* In response to my questions on how nanobubbles work and what the product costs, Walter says:
We are measuring our nanobubble sizes and density this week in Japan and we should have pictures of them on our web site shortly. Nanobubbes if they are negatively charged may bond to the water molecules and create an overall paramagnetic effect. In particular this has been demonstrated via NMR T2 testing with our nanobubbles from the Bauer Processor. The cost of treatment is actually an immediate payback in water treatment. The beneficial outcomes are due to the fact that the nanobubbles enable any water system to be able to operate under proper controlled conditions without biofouling which dramatically reduces overall operating costs including power, water consumption and chemicals. In reality it now makes great economic sense to operate any water system with the inclusion of our technology.

22 Feb 2013

Friday party!

Now that marijuana is basically legal in CO and WA, there are more "public" and "objective" evaluations of the impact of marijuana on public safety. This video shows the impact of smoking on driving (from my experience, 1 gram is enough to put me out). Nobody wants accidents caused by marijuana, but at least we know that marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol.*

Bottom Line: Moderation in all things.

* Over 10,000 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in 2010 in the US. Russians have a big problem with drink, and the Aussies are down to only 300 dead.

Speed blogging

  1. "This paper [pdf] seeks to assess the current status of water quality trading and to identify possible problems and solutions... We describe six criteria for successful pollution trading programs and consider how these apply to standard water quality problems... if current water quality trading programs are to function as the “leading edge” of a new frontier in cost-effective pollution permit trading in the United States." Oh, and here's an entire issue of [open access] articles on water quality trading and a great op/ed on updating the Clean Water Act for non-point source pollution by George Hawkins, GM of DC Water.

  2. Water.org's Matt Damon is "going on strike" for clean water. The video is cute, but I wish they had put more effort into the causes (governance) instead of claiming that "your $25 can give water to someone for life" because it won't. Same case with "UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque," who's telling Thais to spend money they don't have instead of talking about governance. Waste of breath.

  3. Watch this 4 minute TED talk on the Water Canary, a cheap(ish) device for testing water in real time (on my wish list!), then read the Q&A. Looking forward to seeing this on the market!

  4. Israel and Palestine don't really "cooperate" on water due to Israel's "hydro-hegemony".

  5. Water Alternative's 2010 special issue on dams has a LOT of good articles.
H/Ts to ML, RR and SISWEB

21 Feb 2013

Damnation at the Heart of Borneo

Note from David: I've asked a lot of people for more information on dams in Sarawak [prior post], and this guest post offers some expert insight.*

Good practices do not prevent a heart attack, bad practices matter
The Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo is on the verge of change. At the very base of this change is a debate on how Sarawak’s future economic development is relying on the construction of 12 large hydropower dams, that are either to jump-start coastal Sarawak into an industrial development spree [1,2], or to convert Sarawak into a battery for the region (perhaps extending to China or Australia) [3,4], as part of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE), a pet project of Abdul Taib Mahmud, Sarawak’s Chief Minister of 30 years, state Financial Minister, and Resource Planning and Environment Minister [5].

Dam developments like these cannot only be considered in isolation, there is a networked global hydropower industry at work, which has been in a slump since the late 1980s; see e.g. this video. That is when broader opposition against societal and environmental impact of large dams took hold. But now the industry is re-consolidating and finding new traction in emerging countries, which have lead to range of settings where very similar discussions are currently going on (e.g., the Amazon, Congo, Nile, Mekong, or Brahmaputra river basins). Many of the international hydropower companies and international organizations are represented in the International Hydropower Association (IHA) [6]. In 2010, Sarawak’s energy company, SEB, joined the IHA, and in May 2013, it will host an international congress on advancing sustainable hydropower [7].

Hydropower or death?
Like in many emerging states, the hydropower development debate is highly polarized, with little room for maneuver and concession from both sides of the divide, and little constructive discussion going on in the middle of this polarization. On one side there is the development narrative that projects hydro-electricity as the engine to either support a country’s industrial development or as a commodity to be sold to neighboring countries. The other development narrative takes a look at the social and environmental impacts that dams have, and concludes that not many large hydropower projects have lead to direct benefits to local people who often have to be resettled and see their economic and natural resources diminished to the point that they end up in poverty.

20 Feb 2013

Anything but water

  1. Interesting [open access] research on how to help workers care more about their clients, the lack of results in e-governance in the US and how corruption in government corrupts citizen attitudes.

  2. Quantified bias: "Political orientation appeared to influence the formation of false memories, with conservatives more likely to falsely remember seeing Barack Obama shaking hands with the president of Iran, and liberals more likely to remember George W. Bush vacationing with a baseball celebrity during the Hurricane Katrina disaster."

  3. The internet is changing writing (for the better) and cutting publishers out of the loop.

  4. Bhutan is going organic, eventually. In related news, a soybean farmer defends himself against Monsanto's IP lawsuit. All I can see out of this (should the farmer win) is a higher price for seeds, to capture their value over multiple generations. Oh, and read this good article on land grabs.

  5. This paper [pdf] models the regulatory process as a game where the industry-lobbists, consumer-voters, and a regulator-politicians interact to define the regulated price; it shows electoral price cycles in for regulated gasoline and electricity markets in Brazil.
H/Ts to DL and HZ

19 Feb 2013

Speed blogging

  1. Here's a YouTube video of a 33 minute interview during which I discuss land grabs, water and politics. I made the video from Kuala Lumpur, so that may explain why my lips and words are not synchronized (listening may be better than watching).

  2. "Water demand from energy to double by 2035"... unless we start pricing for scarcity!

  3. Climate change will mean that people are going to get pounded, and pounded again, by "unnatural" rain, floods, drought, etc. -- just as this town near Brisbane has been flooded again. Residents' shock, disbelief and vows to rebuild will end only when they give up on their sunk costs and embrace their new, non-stationary status in a flood zone. CC means that cities will be abandoned.*

  4. WTF? Hungary to lend Sri Lanka $46 million for water treatment plant? Since when does a broke country lend money to a corrupt one for legitimate reasons. I'd LOVE to get more background on this!

  5. Don't watch this film! Run!
  6. "David Zetland discusses why water, money and politics are intrinsically linked and the importance for water managers to remain transparent. Case studies will show success in Australia and challenges in Las Vegas."

* In marginally-related news, I watched skimmed Waterworld and learned that the future features bad dialogue and clothes made out of stretchy rags. Disaster (of a film).

18 Feb 2013

Monday funnies

WTF was Marco Rubio doing?

Context from Jon Stewart.

Does the economy owe ecology an apology?

That's what I said in "The economy owes ecology an apology," an essay that I need to revise and submit in the next week or so.

My thesis is that bad economic models and missing data have contributed to policies that directly harm the environment -- and indirectly harm society.

Got comments, corrections or additions? Please leave them here or email me.

Some thoughts on labels and certification

But plenty of other fat!
Labels, brands and certifications turn complex data into a simple conclusion.

Want to buy a good car? Get a Honda. Not sure how healthy the food is? Buy organic. Wondering if the cereal contains nuts? Read the label.

But labels, brands and certifications can also be misused or misleading.

How about the "safe" factory that burned down, "green" buildings that are not that green [LEED-fail], cars that are not that green or that fuel efficient, or ratings on financial instruments that are worthless or misleading?

There are other examples that should worry us, of labels and certifications for everything from dolphin-safe tuna that isn't, on sustainable coffee that isn't, or carbon offsets that do not.

We get these problems for the same reasons we like labeling in the first place: labels save us the effort of understanding a complex issue at the same time as they persuade us that we're safe paying more for a product that we want. These two reasons clearly indicate why we get misleading labels. First, there's the problem of mistakes, as when the people who certify or write the labels incorrectly summarize complex information (e.g., putting too much weight on creamy when you want salty). Second, there's the problem of fraud, when people take short cuts or lie because they want to charge you more for a "certified" product without incurring the costs implied by that certification. They're selling counterfeits.

Labels, brands and certification, in other words, do not work when the metrics are inaccurate or unavailable, and those problems are much greater for "green" certifications or labeling because most of those goods are difficult to understand, assess or experience. It's easy to know if the burger weighs 100 grams but hard to know if it's organic. It's easy to see that the car gets 100km per 5 liters of fuel but hard to know if it emits half the CO2 of the last model -- or if it's put together by workers paid "fair" wages.

You see the problem. How can we address it?

First, I think that we should try to include as much information as possible in prices -- the simplest metric of all -- instead of labels and brands. That means that we don't need to know the water footprint of a product if producers pay a price reflecting water scarcity. That means that we don't have to trace a car's carbon footprint if the price of fuel includes the cost of pollutants (or their removal).

Second, we need to have competition among brands and labels, so that third party judges (e.g., Consumers Union) can trace and confirm their claims and activities.

Third, certifiers and labelers need to guarantee their claims with bonds that they will lose if they are wrong (as I suggested with financial rating agencies).

Finally, caveat emptor! You, as a buyer, need to be careful that you are not swayed by the bias in online reviews or the false words of someone who doesn't mind lying to you because they just "helped" the planet. Make sure that you complain -- loudly and in public -- when you run across false advertising, poor quality or anything else that you wished you'd known before you got a sour deal.

Bottom Line: Labels, brands and certificates are useful, but they can be inaccurate and abused. Producers should try to replace labels with accurate prices. Consumers should be skeptical of labels as a shortcut signal of quality. "Kosher" doesn't always mean kosher.

15 Feb 2013

Friday party!

Colbert makes fun of a Canadian move to ban the penny -- and points out that the US penny benefits mainly special interests.

They've banned the penny in the Netherlands, and life is much better without it.

Speed blogging

  1. You can learn about virtual water and water footprints for $250 if you take this online course, but I'll give you the secret to sustainable water use for free: raise the price of water if demand exceeds supply. If you want a "certificate of completion" regarding this knowledge, then send me an example of where that does NOT happen with the solution in your own handwriting, and I'll sign it and send it back -- for FREE.

  2. Water Blog continues to put out great posts, like this one on fertilizing with rocks and this one on watering with dew.

  3. Great post summarizing the ups and downs of groundwater governance in California. Like that topic? Then attend A Regional Consultation on Groundwater Governance that takes place on 19-21 March in The Haag, Netherlands.

  4. Nice summary of the "third wave" in privatization of water services where, as I've said many times, governance matters! In fact, I just gave a talk on water governance and economic instruments at our recent conference in Madrid. Here are my slides [pdf] and my 18 min talk [mp3]

  5. Comment on "the potential for water resources management to be a part of the post-2015 development agenda" here before 17 Feb.
H/T to DL

14 Feb 2013

The Pain of Paying

Jay Wetmore sent this interesting context on a recent post by Dan Ariely:

"I think there are implications for infrastructure spending. There is a tradeoff between reducing the pain of paying and creating a moral conflict, or developing morally dubious payment schemes. For example, general revenue funds are a common pool resource with all of the tragedy of the commons issues as people try to exploit the "resource" first before it is exhausted. Tolls create a higher pain of paying than gas taxes. Motor vehicle registration fees probably fall in between. Property taxes may not be recognized as funding local roads and so the pain (and anger) may be misdirected. Vehicle mileage taxes create a higher pain level than fuel taxes I think.

Metering, and charging for, water creates a pain of paying that morally dubious politicians and water managers try to remove or hide. Just like minimum payment plans on credit cards lower the pain of paying and result in higher consumption by some people, flat water rates or water payments included in other taxes increase the the consumption of water.

Removing all of the pain of paying creates less efficient economic decisions and transactions. I, for example, do not put my utility bills on automatic payment because I want to be more conscious that electricity and natural gas cost money."

13 Feb 2013

Why buy when you can rent?

I saw this the other day on the publisher page for my all-in-auctions paper:

Although I am glad to see them lowering the price for access, I am not sure that the business model of charging readers for access to a paper that generates zero (direct) income to the author is going to persist -- especially when you can download my copy from here.

The Tourism Kuznets Curve

The "Environmental Kuznets Curve" is shaped like a hill (or upside-down U) that has wealth on the horizontal axis and environmental quality on the vertical axis. The EKC theory is that poorer people do not pollute so much, medium-income people (e.g., China) pollute more, and that richer people pollute less (e.g., Sweden) because they appreciate the environment and have the money to protect/restore it.

The EKC sounds good in theory, but it seems to be more of a "just so" story that may be used to justify "get rich now, take care of the environment later" policies, but this post is not about that debate.

I want to apply the Kuznets theory to another area: tourism (see figure).

My thought is that people in the least-touristed areas (e.g., Nicaragua) are mostly honest in terms of treating you "like a local" in terms of the prices they charge you in the market, taxis, dinner, etc.

This pleasant experience (you don't need to bargain because you know that's the normal price) goes out the window in places with "medium tourism" (e.g., Bali) where locals decide that tourists are rich enough to pay multiples of the local price. In these situations, tourists either haggle to try to get prices down, get ripped off, or just don't buy non-necessities.

Places with heavy tourism (e.g., Paris) just set "tourist prices" that are higher than normal, but reasonable for the situation (language barrier, rents, etc.) Most tourists end up paying more, but some will wander around looking for the "local scene."

I came up with this theory after going from one low tourist area (Flores) to a medium one (Bali) in Indonesia, and encountering multiple attempts to fleece me in the markets, etc.

The worst -- or most surprising -- was at the gas station, where the attendant "filled" my motorbike with 5.6 liters of fuel and charged me 25,500 IDR ($2.50). Although I should have been suspicious when he gave me 5.000 IDR in change from 30,000, I was too confused by his (not accidental) questions about where we were going etc. to notice the change problem or -- much bigger -- the fact that the fuel tank of the motorbike (just rented that day) only had capacity for 4 liters. Ouch.

Anyone have stories for/against this theory?

Bottom Line: Locals who see tourists are money-machines give their country a reputation for corruption and destroy the trust that would make it possible to develop additional businesses.

Posted at: 13-2-13 2:13 :)

12 Feb 2013

All my reviews

NB (4 June 2015): This page is no longer being updated. Go here.

NB: I give stars based on the author's fulfillment of the promises made on the cover. I am also biased in my reviews to the extent that they reflect my knowledge when I write them. I may be a tougher reviewer over time, but I TRY to review for readers who may not have read any/all of these books -- let alone worked on water issues for years! I also want people to know that I am reviewing books and ideas, not people.

* complement TEoA by describing problems
** substitute for TEoA by describing forces underlying problems (and sometimes solutions)

General discussions of water management, use and crisis (ordered by stars):
Blue Revolution (5★): Excellent examples and theme
Take Me to the Source (5★): A nice wander around the way we live with water
When the rivers run dry (5★): Great overview of the impacts of water shortage
The Big Thirst (4★): Snappy writing, sometimes sloppy [read this]
Drinking Water (A History) (4★): An interesting illumination of how we've lived with water
The Future of Water (4★): A look into the future but uneven quality
Unquenchable (4★): Good examples but perhaps too many
Investing in Water for a Green Economy (3★) Uneven and incomplete
Running Out of Water (3★): Verges on boring
The Price of Thirst (2★): Baseless, anti-capitalist non-sequiturs
Aqua Shock (1★): A waste of paper (or electrons)

Specialized discussions of a particular water dimension:
Dead Pool (5★): Updating Cadillac Desert on mismanaged infrastructure
Down the Drain (5★): Water and policy fail in Canada
Heart of Dryness (5★): Botswana's Bushmen fight to live in the desert
IBNet Blue Book (5★): Understand and compare utility performance
Priests and Programmers (5★): Amazing description of traditional irrigation in Bali
Rain (5★): It's all around us, affecting our lives, but do you see it?
Water and the California Dream (5★): Excellent history of disastrous policies
Water Follies (5★): Exploring the mismanagement of groundwater in the US
Water for Sale (5★): Why private water companies can help the poor
Water Trading and Global Water Scarcity (5★) Theory, data, reforms, case studies
When the Levees Broke (5★) A documentary on Katrina and government failure in NOLA
Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind (4★): An archaeologist's exploration (see Water)
Governing the Tap (4★): A detailed look into water management districts in the US
Liquid Assets (4★): A deep look at water mismanagement in the Middle East
Rivers of Gold (4★): Some case studies of water markets in the western US
Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization (4★): Excellent (see Elixir)
The Nile River Basin (3★): Incomplete information, but better than nothing?
Water: Asia's New Battleground (2★): Confused

Other relevant books on politics, philosophy, and psychology:
The Appeal (5★): A John Grisham novel on how power and money destroy the environment
Arabian Sands (5★): Culture changes slowly, and this book is still relevant, 50 years later
The Black Swan (5★): Watch out for the unexpected!
The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI (5★): From thugs to professionals
The Calculus of Consent (5★): A classic discussion of laws in a just society
The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change (5★): Brilliant, balanced and funny
Collapse (5★): A good history of sustainability (but perhaps flawed?)
Cooked (5★): A lovely book on food, the ways we prepare it and how it binds us together
The Company: A History (5★): A social construct that's served us well
The Company of Strangers (5★): How and why humans cooperate
Crude World (5★): An update on The Prize that discusses politics and corruption
Death and Life of Great American Cities (5★): Social evolution and planner failure
Fast Food Nation (5★): Eat out sometimes, but prepare your own food
The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty (5★): Ariely on how we lie to ourselves
Investigating the Russian Mafia (5★): Good background for understanding Putin's Russia
King of California (5★): How subsidized agribusiness destroyed the environment
King Leopold's Ghost (5★): The horrors of Belgian colonialism in the Congo
The Last Lecture (5★): THIS is passionate teaching
The Limits to Growth (5★): Still relevant 40 years later
Madmen, Intellectuals and Academic Scribblers (5★): Diagnosing policy failure and change
Megaprojects and Risk (5★): How to build infrastructure with fewer mistakes
The Origins of Virtue (5★): Similar to Moral Sense, but snappier (if slightly over-optimistic)
The Prize (5★): Brilliant history of the oil industry
Predictably Irrational (5★): How we (imperfectly) process information and make decisions
Prophet of Innovation (5★): Biography of Joseph ("Creative Destruction") Schumpeter
Silent Spring (5★): The book that (deservedly) launched modern environmentalism
Small is Beautiful (5★): An early -- and still relevant -- book on sustainable economics
There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch (5★): THE environmental economics text
Two Cheers for Anarchism (5★): More People, less State
Water in the Middle East (5★): It's politics, not scarcity, that's causing shortages
The Armchair Economist (4★): A varied and insightful application of economics to life
Business Adventures (4★): Interesting, still-relevant, stories from the 60s
The Economic Naturalist (4★): The economics of everyday life
Government Failure and Over-Government (4★): Essays that presaged Thatcher
The Land Grabbers (4★): Good stories on land grabs, but occasionally too polemic
The Moral Sense (4★): So much (too much?) interesting discussion of our moral evolution
The Organization of Inquiry (4★): How academic SHOULD do research
The Quest (4★): Good overview of many energy sources
Say Everything (4★): The rise of blogging (and why I do it)
Thinking Fast and Slow (4★): The psychology economists everyone should know
Weapons of the Weak (4★): A long, perceptive narrative of village development
Economic Gangsters (3★): Pop development economics
Hipster Business Models (3★): Interesting stories, not so many models
Anything from Food and Water Watch (2★): Their bias interferes with their logic
The Starfish and the Spider (2★): Boring
The Third Industrial Revolution (2★): "Look at me" waste of time
The Value of Nothing (2★): Anti-capitalist, illogical ideological rant
You Don't Have to Wear Hemp Underwear (1★): Even bigger waste of time.

Rango (5★): Ridiculous, funny and lots of "dry" humor
Big Men (5★): Interesting insights to oil exploration in Nigeria
Food Inc(5★): "More filling, tastes crap, destroys communities and the environment"
Under the Dome (5★): An investigating of the corruption driving China's pollution
When the Levees Broke (5★): A documentary of government failures surrounding Katrina
Gasland (4★): Cheap gas may not be so cheap
Ivory Tower (4★): Expensive universities may not be worth it
Know your H2O (4★): A fun way to understand water flows
Last Call at the Oasis (4★): We're drying out!
Lost Rivers (3★): See sewers and buried rivers
FLOW (2★): Unbalanced propaganda
Watershed Movie (2★): More opinion than expertise

Home Water Testing kit -- Works? (Clumsy)
LifeStraw review -- Works!
Using the Steripen to purify water -- Works!

11 Feb 2013

Monday funnies

From my dad (former consultant):

Spoon: A lesson on how consultants can make a difference in an organization

Last week, we took some friends to a new restaurant and noticed that the waiter who took our order carried a spoon in his shirt pocket.

It seemed a little strange.

When the busboy brought our water and utensils, I observed that he also had a spoon in his shirt pocket.

Then I looked around and saw that all the staff had spoons in their pockets. When the waiter came back to serve our soup I inquired, 'Why the spoon?'

“Well," he explained, "the restaurant's owner hired Andersen Consulting to revamp all of our processes. After several months of analysis, they concluded that the spoon was the most frequently dropped utensil. It represents a drop frequency of approximately 3 spoons per table per hour."

"If our personnel were better prepared, we can reduce the number of trips back to the kitchen and save 15 man-hours per shift."

As luck would have it, I dropped my spoon and he replaced it with his spare. "I'll get another spoon next time I go to the kitchen instead of making an extra trip to get it right now." I was impressed.

I also noticed that there was a string hanging out of the waiter's fly.

Looking around, I saw that all of the waiters had the same string hanging from their flies. So, before he walked off, I asked the waiter, "Excuse me, but can you tell me why you have that string right there?"

"Oh, certainly!' Then he lowered his voice. "Not everyone is so observant. That consulting firm I mentioned also learned that we can save time in the restroom."

"By tying this string to the tip of our you-know-what, we can pull it out without touching it and eliminate the need to wash our hands, shortening the time spent in the restroom by 76.39%."

I asked quietly, "After you get it out, how do you put it back?"

"Well," he whispered, "I don't know about the others, but I use the spoon..."

Anything but water

  1. This 2004 paper [pdf] should correct the misperceptions of people who think that the truth will emerge if a topic is sufficiently debated:
    ...drawing from examples such as climate change, genetically modified foods, and nuclear waste disposal, I explore the idea that scientific inquiry is inherently and unavoidably subject to becoming politicized in environmental controversies... I briefly explore the problem of why some types of political controversies become “scientized” and others do not, and conclude that the value bases of disputes underlying environmental controversies must be fully articulated and adjudicated through political means before science can play an effective role in resolving environmental problems.
  2. The culture of taxi drivers does not only include overcharging

  3. How to choose and use knives

  4. Short but depressing article on America's military. I was surprised to see (in black and white) how politicians see it as a tool for "projecting force" rather than defending the country. That's perhaps why the US spends more than ALL OTHER COUNTRIES in the world, combined, and still has not won the "war on war." That fact also explains the American Paradox: why is a country with such a grand tradition of freedom likely to invade your country to deny you yours? If you like that, then definitely read this long and perceptive post on agit/prop, politics, Chuck Hagel and the Military Industrial Complex.

  5. A fascinating article on Dr. Oz ("America's Doctor") and how -- in his desire to engage patients -- he may be misleadingly endorsing quack medicine to patients who may lack critical thinking skills. A semi-related post details how economics students are more likely to lie, since they've learned that's the "optimal" behavior in Econ 1 but not yet learned of its weaknesses in Econ 101 (life).
H/T to RM

8 Feb 2013

Friday party!

These macaques in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia were having a great time in the water:

Is corporate life killing you?

I haven't worked a 9-5 job since 2002, and this post explains why:
We buy stuff to cheer ourselves up, to keep up with the Joneses, to fulfill our childhood vision of what our adulthood would be like, to broadcast our status to the world, and for a lot of other psychological reasons that have very little to do with how useful the product really is. How much stuff is in your basement or garage that you haven’t used in the past year? The real reason for the forty-hour workweek

The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.

I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.

The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.

Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago.
I agree with most of this post but disagree with its claim that companies selling to you are manipulating your time as a worker. They only take advantage of our "scheduled" lives.

Bottom Line: Nobody ever died regretting that they missed a day at the office.
PS: How good is life in your country? Check out this OECD comparison of quality of life in 36 countries. The US ranks 3rd on neutral weights, but much lower on my priorities.

7 Feb 2013

This is REALLY cool

I saw it in Singapore, but it should be used in poor countries:

6 Feb 2013

Crazy currents

I've never seen such whirlpools and clashing currents like these near Komodo Island, Indonesia.

Don't kill older workers to make jobs!

Many people believe the "lump of labor" fallacy, i.e., there's a fixed number of jobs to go around and that either (1) some people need to quit for others to get a job (see image) or (2) people can share the fixed number of jobs (France's 35 hour workweek).

The economic fact is that there are as many jobs out there as there are productive workers. A worker who can create $10 of value will get a job that pays less than $10. A worker who can create $2 in value will get a job when the cost of employment is less than $2. Employers, in other words, hire workers to INCREASE PROFITS.

  • Government regulations and labor market frictions often create a large gap between the cost of employment and the wages that go to the worker. Large gaps mean that workers who can produce, say, $40 in value per hour are not hired at $25 per hour.
  • Many people are paid "too much" for what they produce because they have job security, have difficult-to-measure productivity, or because they con the Board of Directors into paying them crazy wages. 
  • Some workers (e.g., financial traders) are paid to destroy social value. 
  • Others get paid for their lobbying instead of production because they convince politicians or bureaucrats to give them Other People's Money.
Bottom Line: You can get a job if you can convince someone that you create value. (Work for free for a few weeks and show them if they don't believe you.) If you're value is too hard to fit into the corporate box, then start your own business.

5 Feb 2013

MIAS -- the review

Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change fulfills two important functions. First, it delivers a clear and concise overview of political economy, i.e., how politics and economic interact. Second, it provides a simple, but accurate description of how bad polices get put into place, why they persist and how -- perhaps -- to change those policies. Both aspects appealed to me as an entrepreneur of ideas because they helped me understand a topic that I work with everyday and gave me some hints on how to structure my work (e.g., this blog) to be more effective.

In the words of Leighton and Lopez (the authors):
Our understanding of political change is as follows: Incentives are shaped by the rules of the game, which economists call institutions, and these institutions in turn are shaped by the ideas in a society. In other words, ideas matter...[and] political change happens when entrepreneurs exploit loose spots in the structure of ideas, institutions and incentives [preface]
From this statement, you can understand how ideas affect institutions that modify the incentives that economists talk so much about. This structure implies that you need to change institutions to change incentives and that it takes ideas to change institutions. If, for example, we want to reduce the industrial agricultural output of corn in the US -- an output that produces water pollution, depletes aquifers, distorts our food choices, and so on -- then we need to change the incentives that farmers face. The biggest incentives are in the form of crop insurance, guaranteed demand for corn-ethanol, and subsidies and guaranteed prices for corn. Those incentives are driven by institutions crafted in Congress and implemented by the USDA, and those institutions are built on the idea that we need cheap corn, should reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and need to protect farmers from risks for which no market instruments exist. Those ideas reflect the conventional wisdom promulgated by agribusiness firms, lobbyists, politicians campaigning in Iowa, and other special interests. Those ideas fail to mention the negative impacts of Big Corn at the same time as they fail to mention alternative ideas that could deliver the food, security and income goals outlined above. In other words, we will not see an end to the biased incentives and the resulting perverse outcomes until we can engage and win in a war of ideas.[1]

So that's the context for this book, which I recommend as a text for ANY policy class and for ALL students of law, economics and politics.[2]

The 200 page book is divided into seven chapters:
  1. Ideas and the Rules of Politics
  2. The Never-Ending Quest for Good Government
  3. Economists Join the Battle of Political Ideas
  4. Public Choice: How We Choose Bad Policies and Get Stuck with Them, or Not
  5. How Ideas Matter for Political Change
  6. Four Stories of Political Change
  7. What's to Be Done? Assembling the Wisdom
In these chapters L&L note that change in outcomes will result when incentives change, that incentives are the result of institutions (the informal norms and formal rules in society) and that institutions will change when new ideas come along. This chain is yanked when intellectuals translate and transmit the ideas of academic scribblers into a form that madmen (politicians, bureaucrats, and the others who control change) can then use.

L&L are not naive to the difficulty in causing change. Their book describes the steps necessary for change, but these steps are not sufficient. Ideas can be shot down at any stage. What's required -- often -- is a crisis that creates an opportunity for a policy entrepreneur to implement an idea that's been around for awhile.

To do this, they set up the gears of the machine in Chapters 1 and 2, then move on to the role of economists (as idea generators) in Chapter 3. There, they make the important distinction between economists who want to "tune the machine of humanity" and economists who want to "facilitate the chaotic exchanges of people" (see note 2 below). I am definitely in the latter category, and L&L do an excellent job at contrasting the two approaches and how the former is beloved of mathematicians and control freaks and the latter of liberals (i.e., libertarians) who want to defend the rights of individuals against misplaced control and unexpected developments. As one example, they discuss "externalities" (the positive or negative side effects of actions that affect others), and how their existence does not automatically imply a need to make policies to internalize them. L&L, in other words, explain how theory (ideas) does not always translate in to reality.[3] Their discussion of that failure (Chapter 4) should be required reading for ALL voters (and politicians).

L&L do a great job answering a question that vexes me, i.e., why do we get stuck with policies that we KNOW are bad? Sugar subsidies, corn ethanol, subsidized flood insurance, etc.? Well, they cite Tullock's work on rent seeking and note that the value of a gift from the government (a subsidy) quickly gets capitalized into the value of goods (e.g., sugar plantation). This short term jump in value then establishes a new baseline that the owner -- or NEW owner -- will take as a right to be defended at all costs.[4] L&L then pose the obvious question (How then do we EVER get changes in bad policies?) and answer it with "an idea, an opportunity and a madman." They then give three examples of changes in Chapter 6 (auctioning spectrum licenses, airline deregulation, and welfare reform). They also discuss a failure to reform after the financial crisis, but I am not sure that example (or lack thereof) works so well.

They conclude with a Chapter 7 devoted to the role of political entrepreneurs who will succeed when they can take an idea (from a scribbler or the public) and translate it into terms that public and the madmen (who may or may not listen to the public) can understand and use. That dynamic feedback is necessary since some ideas fail because they are not presented in familiar or attractive terms.[5]

They recommend that political entrepreneurs focus on their comparative advantage, have a deep knowledge of the market, look for the greatest return on invested time, and get lucky :)

...and that's what I am trying to do!

Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS and recommend it to people who want to understand, improve or work within the policy process, social scientists [sic], and people who work in or with government. It will save you from banging your head on the wall (excessively), and I definitely plan to REREAD this book if/when I take aguanomics on the road and run for political office (long run plans :)

[1] I gave a talk on water auctions several years ago at the USDA Economic Research Service a few years ago. I was LITERALLY shouted down when I brought up corn ethanol, so we need to remember that those most able to debate ideas may be too myopic or corrupt to do so. Industry's influence on research at "aggie" schools recommends the same caveats.

[2] I suggest it as a complement to Worldly Philosophers and TANSTAAFL. L&L use an interesting technique of relating ideas via their proponents (esp. chapter 3), which may be too "personal" or oversimplified for some readers. That said, I think that economists are increasingly divided into the (majority) school of Pigou-Keynes-Samuelson that believes in "fine tuning the machine" and the Hayek-Coase-Buchanan school that seeks to build institutions that are robust to human frailty and fallibility. I am in the latter, and just heard this excellent podcast discussing the academic and social impacts of pretending that men are machines that can be manipulated.

[3] Gasoline taxes are often justified as the response to a "negative externality" of pollution from cars, but the money from those taxes rarely (never?) goes to people who suffer from pollution. So is it really a tax on an externality or is it just a way of raising money?

[4] This is also the main point of prospect theory (Kahnemann review to come), where people put far more weight on a loss of $10 than on a gain of $10.

[5] That's why I say that the benefit of higher prices is reliable water or that farmers who participate in all-in-auctions can only gain from their water rights, not lose. I haven't overturned the status quo, yet, but I'm making progress :)

4 Feb 2013

Monday funnies

I see this a lot :)

Speed blogging

  1. This article raises an interesting point: the US EPA allows companies to pollute aquifers that it assumes are too deep to be tapped for drinking. If rising water scarcity makes it economical to tap those aquifers (as Mexico just has), then it will not be possible to do so, since they will be polluted.

  2. Brazilian hydropower is NOT that green, but the World Bank thinks so.

  3. From India (Karnataka): groundwater (mis)management [docx] and how farmers are more efficient with water when they are exposed to water markets [pdf].

  4. A new publication attempts to estimate the impact of land grabs on water resources.

  5. This paper highlights the problems from a badly-understood water-energy-food nexus. IMO, the solution is NOT more management but better signals of scarcity for the resources now mispriced or taken for granted. (It highlights the problem with missing data :)
H/T to DL

1 Feb 2013

Friday party!

McDonalds isn't just Lovin It. They want you to have a prosperous (Chinese) New Years.

Think Prosperity Fries are over the top? How about a Fortune Pizza?

Anything but water

  1. Online dating is changing our relationships by lowering the cost of moving in and out of them. In semi-related news, Esther Dyson discusses the "attention economy" where people "pay" attention to those who "sell" it. This idea is compelling for people participating on Facebook, Wikipedia and blogs; it also highlights the importance of delivering value for people's scarce attention.

  2. A useful comparison of the safety of travel by airplane, train and car, and an update on attempts to kill the FAA's useless policies about using electronic devices on planes (it's not about safety!)

    Two years in prison and/or pay $2,000 for using your phone?
  3. The mafia is involved in renewable energy schemes. No surprise, since the mafia business model takes advantage of government failure.

  4. Don't like that oil pipeline (e.g., Keystone XL)? No problem -- railroads will haul the oil at a greater cost and greater risk of spills and pollution. Enviros shoot themselves in the foot, again. Related: National Geographic on fracking and methane and a good cartoon on energy density.

  5. A funny and accurate rant on politicians:
    When I was reporting on Wall Street, I used to be told with some regularity that government was needed to counteract the short-term thinking of the business sector, who never thought much beyond the next quarterly earnings report. This now seems as quaintly adorable as picture hats and daily milk deliveries. An ADHD day trader with a cocaine habit and six months to live has considerably more long-term planning skills than our current congress.
H/T to MR