I was an immigrant, let’s have some empathy

You probably don’t even think of it that way, but I was an immigrant to a foreign country under a student visa/residence permit with the expectation that I would stay in that foreign country for at least 3 years. Things didn’t go as planned, but I was an immigrant. I’ve written some here in the past about those experiences, since I started blogging on this site over 5 years ago when I was still living in the Netherlands.

While I was in Europe I grew up a lot and I experienced things that I would have never experienced in the US. However, before I get into any of this I must preface this post. My experience abroad was easier than most study abroad programs. My courses were in English. I’m an American Citizen. Nearly all government documents along with University documents had English translations. Nearly all Dutch are fluent in English and all my friends spoke English. This made these extremely easy. So easy at times it was easy to forget I was an immigrant.

While living abroad I lived with a group of people I jokingly referred to as a model UN. There were two Colombians, two Pakistanis, a Turk, an Iranian, and a Chinese woman. Everyone had a story to tell me about my homeland that cause them direct personal pain. My Colombian friends told me what it was like growing up in the 80’s and 90’s with the FARC threatening things while the US was running missions in their country. My Pakistani roommates told me about what my country was doing to their country at that time. My Iranian roommate was initially terrified to meet me because I was an American. He assumed that I would hate him because of where he was from.

Learning about the impact of the US political system on every person that I met while living abroad was truly sobering. As an American living in the US we simply do not understand the impact and the weight of the US to the rest of the world. Furthermore, we simply take it as a given fact that this is how the world is and always will be. However, that’s not true. When I first arrived in the Netherlands it was clear there was still ill will towards America for George W. Bush, that was tempered a great deal by Obama, but not all of his policies pleased Europeans, specifically many of the bombings we were doing. I believe that we’re losing even more respect with trump as our President now.

I got the idea for this post because a friend of mine shared a link about a Syrian student at CMU was thinking of transferring outside of the US for his PhD. This hit really close to home because, while I was studying in the Netherlands, my wife was finishing up her PhD and my Grandfather passed away. If I had been unable to go home and return for my studies in the Netherlands because of a ban of travel between the US and the Netherlands I would have seriously reconsidered my decision to even study there. Being away from my wife for the first year and a half of my marriage was incredibly difficult, losing my Grandfather was heart wrenching, the mere thought of not being able to go home for his funeral is completely unimaginable. As it was, my family pulled together and got me back to the States for his funeral, which was extremely touching.

Beyond just the though of never seeing my wife or missing my Grandfather’s funeral, it brings up the moral question of “do I want to live in a society that bans people from my country?” For me, as an immigrant to that country, it’s a clear no. I do not want to live in a society that bans people from my country or any other country for the reasons that trump has outlined. These policies affect people, people that don’t have a true say in that country’s government. If there is a problem with the government it should be treated in an international body rather than attacking the people of the nation. Here’s one example of a person negatively impacted by the ban. He is completely devastated.

As I said in my post yesterday we, America, need to be the shining light on the hill. It is the reason why immigrants chose to come here. I would not come here as an immigrant from any country right now because I would never know when that ban would arbitrarily descend on my country, so that I could never go home to see my loved ones or could never have my loved ones join me.

I’ve been an immigrant, I was lucky that I was able to control when and why I became an immigrant. Not everyone is lucky like me.

Texas Repulicans

Yesterday the Texas Republican Party released their platform. It’s terrifying. It starts out innocently enough saying that they plan to uphold the constitution and that everyone is created equally. However, that’s the end of the good stuff. As I tweeted out yesterday there’s a portion that says that they do not support teaching children critical thinking or anything that could lead them to question their current belief system or parental authority.

I can’t think of a better definition of science than critical thinking, questioning current beliefs and authority. When a scientist makes a discovery that doesn’t conform to the current scientific paradigm(program) accepting the results for the experiment REQUIRE these abilities. Looking at the faster than light neutrino fiasco of the past year is a perfect example of this. Scientists saw a result that was highly suspect (faster than light speeds), but they were willing to accept it, if it passed enough tests. They were critical of the results, didn’t accept it on face value, they were willing to question the current paradigm (relativistic physics) and the authority of nearly 100 years of work based on that paradigm.

This is also a case of biting the hand that feeds. Texas’s growth has been fueled through science, technology and research at businesses. With Houston as the center of the oil world, which is driven by better science of getting oil out of the ground, new technologies to do so and the research for increasing the conversion rates from crude oil to gasoline and other goods, you’d think that Texas would understand why it’s important to have scientists. While Texas doesn’t have as many Tier 1 research universities as California (3 vs 9) these three are extremely powerful and wealthy. UT is the 3rd richest in the country and Texas A&M is the 10th. They are both research powerhouses in the academic world. Creating policies that negatively impact the education system that feeds these schools is only going to hurt their abilities to compete in the future.

The Texas Republicans also want to “Teach the Controversy” with equal air time for every side of the argument. In this case when they get to evolution I hope the controversy they discuss is the recent disagreement between Evolutionary Biologists Richard Dawkins and EO Wilson, because that’s the biggest one going on in Evolution right now. However, I know this is not what they mean. They plan to teach the “controversy” of creationism in science class. This is as dangerous as not teaching critical thinking.

If you couple the lack of critical thinking with teach the controversy approach, you have a recipe for disaster. You create students that are unable to really understand the differences and take what the teacher believes at face value. If the “biology” teacher is a creationist (which has happened in some states) then they will not adequately teach evolution and the students will not understand why creationism is wrong and evolution is scientifically accurate. They will be unable to critically reason the differences. This is a terrifying prospect.

These are not the only areas that Texas Republicans are showing that they are out of touch with the youth of America. The DailyKOS has further analysis  a lot of the bad policy stances that are coming down the road in Texas from Republicans.

Economics, Philosophy and Science

The Occupy Wall Street movement has spawned a great deal of branch protests. It has increased our awareness of economic, educational and governance issues. We have seen a series of aggressive police actions and amazing responses from victims. Historically, universities have been a sites of unrest. Berkeley had it’s riots in the 60’s, there’s the famous Kent State shooting picture and there are many other examples. What do much of these have in common? The state has used it’s authority and power to overly aggressively clamp down on protesters. However, violent protesters can’t be accepted, but non-violent protesters cannot be met with force. It’s part of our heritage to protest the government.

However, it’s important to understand what we’re protesting and why. It was clear from the beginning of the OWS movement that most of the people didn’t really understand what they were protesting. Very broad general things like Wall Street making too much money or the fact that no one has gone to jail. I think it’s important that for protesting to be effective the leaders and a majority of the protesters need to be well educated on what it is exactly they are protesting.

In this case the protesters needed to be educated on economics and philosophy/morality. Why economics, those guys are like the bad guys man? Well, sadly, to have an actual conversation with these people you need to speak their language. You don’t have to actually accept their assumptions as true or accurate, but you need to be well educated on the topics. Additionally, if you are well educated on economics, you’ll know there are different capitalist perspectives on economics that indicate that a more equal society is a safer and happier society. Using evolutionary economics, policies can be crafted to help protect economies from crashes. In addition, being educated in slightly beyond the basic supply demand curve, it will help prevent the wool from being pulled over our eyes. This will also allow more members of our society to enter public discourse and understand and speak intelligently about the topics that impact all of us. People will actually understand what socialism and communism actually mean.

In addition to a good economic ground work, we also need to understand some basic philosophy. People are accused of moral relativism, we need to know what it actually means (morality is flexible based on the situation) and how that impacts people’s actions. We also need to know when our leaders are behaving morally, immorally and what sort of freedoms we should be giving to people. Our country is founded on the philosophical ideas of the enlightenment. The US government was founded on rights, which all people should have regardless of sex, race or whatever. This includes speech and protest. If these are within our rights, then we need to protect them from people that believe it is their right to physically assault you when you exercise your rights. Morality and ethics can also drive our legislature to define laws based on humanist principles to ensure living wages and the right to live for all people. Or at least the need to create the social mobility claim to have in our society. Decreasing costs of education reduces the initial burden after school which allows people to take more risks, which may allow them to move from one social strata to the next. These should be done for moral reasons and because education and research has been shown both neoclassical economics and evolutionary economics to be a huge driver of sustained economic growth.

We also need a strong scientific foundation, which will provide a healthy dose of skepticism for government and data published by any group on either side. It gives the tools to decide if we should accept these data or open our tool box and figure out where the flaw in the data is. Science is the driver of current economic growth. It is what allows the next big break through at the platform level. We’ve had several platforms, coal, steel, rail, and we’re currently on the silicon platform/computing platform. To develop new platforms we need to continue to drive to the frontier of science.

Our founding fathers embodied these ideals. Jefferson was a philosopher that wrote his own version of the bible. He and Franklin were both accomplished scientists. All of them believed in the rights of the people that exist not because they are given to them by the government, but because they are natural rights all people have. It is important that we acknowledge these rights and make sure we are educated in these topics to ensure an actual debate over the problems we’re facing as a society. Without being educated in the importance of these topics we’ll begin to argue based on the best sound byte and not on the content of the message.

In closing, all people need to become literate in these topics to provide the best foundation for an argument. Without being able to speak the right language, you’ll sound like whining children that’s wondering like a child lost in the woods, or out of your element if you will. With these tools, anyone can talk coherently and powerfully against the very things our own government protests in other countries.

China, Technology and creativity

Sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been hanging out with my Awesome wife! She gave a talk in Ireland, which I went to for most of a week. It was a good time. She then came here to Eindhoven for a week and had an interview. So that’s why I haven’t been updating. Sorry faithful readers.

At a party on Saturday, I got into a fairly active discussion with 4 PhDs and myself. They are all engineering PhDs, so they understand research and how technology works rather well. We got into a discussion on if China was going to actually really over take the US in scientific research. I said I think it’s likely, but there were many arguments against that likelihood. I didn’t really get to finish my argument on why it’s possible. So, I’m going to do that now.

Basically, some of the core arguments against China being able to overtake is us lack of creativity. China is a country of followers, not a country of creative leaders. Another argument was the lack of high quality education and research centers in China. I’ll address the second argument first and then discuss the first argument.

Americans know that we educated a lot of foreigners at our universities, 2008 was an all time high for the number of international students. In fact my roommate at one point explained to me that one of the groups at the University of Texas was comprised entirely of Chinese students. They conduct their meetings and research all in Chinese and, in fact, leave the US speaking worse English than when they arrived. But why are they leaving? The link above notes that there simply aren’t enough H1B Visas or green cards for them all to stay. Effectively we’re throwing out the people we educate. Over time enough good scientists and engineers will be sent back and will start teaching in China. China has big ambitions and has been creating universities as fast as it can. Using an evolutionary perspective, we can see that it’s likely they will continue to create variation and students will be selecting the best universities. One of them is likely to start producing more science and better science than another. This will lead to the best students and best researchers going to that school. One or two could become the Chinese version of MIT, Berkeley or Harvard. I think it’s clear that education won’t hold them back. Eventually, they will have several universities in the top 200 list according to the Times Higher Education ranking.

The second argument is a little tricker to argue against. The Chinese aren’t creative enough to create radical innovations. First, I’m sure that the Chinese I know would object to this blanket statement. However, let’s assume for the moment that’s it’s some what correct. There’s a culture that doesn’t reward creativity and rewards conformity. I can think of two countries that have similar types of culture that have been creative and are excellent centers of research and innovation, Japan and South Korea. Now are they as good as the US at innovation or research, No. However, they have had some great innovations and do great research.

When it comes to patent research there’s something called a Triadic patent. It’s a patent that is filed in the US, Europe and Japan. Europe and Japan have higher standards for patents than the US and are more difficult to acquire. Why does this matter? Well effectively Japan is the only country in Asia that would fit better with the European countries in terms of GDP per capita, protection of IP and research.

Both South Korea and Japan have a few companies that are on the leading edge of their respective fields. Samsung is in a huge number of different areas and is the world leader in many of them. Japan has Nikon, Sony, Toyota and a few other big companies that are on the cutting edge in research, design and innovation. So, I don’t accept the argument that the Chinese couldn’t be creative.

Another point I was trying to make, is that over time as a country becomes the center of manufacturing and incremental innovation on a product, it’s likely that they are going to be able to create the next radical innovation in that field. There are two things that support this. First, in a book by Andrew Liveris, the British CEO of Dow Chemical, there is anecdotal evidence to support bringing manufacturing back to the US along with the R&D that goes with it. The other argument is based on the research of Cesar Hidalgo of MIT that shows through network theory, that to become a leader in technology you have to build your way through a series of other technologies. It helps explain why it’s so hard for countries to pick up creating semiconductors. However, as a country develops the technological capability to work within a type of technology they are likely to create innovation and changes in that technology.

China has effectively been given the ability to manufacture just about everything through outsourcing. They have the technological capabilities to build and design new technologies. China also has the resources devoted to it. They created a five year plan where they are going to invest $1.5 trillion in 7 science sectors. Because of these factors I believe that China is a real threat to US and European leadership in research and technology. For any one to dismiss China because of cultural reasons or technological capabilities is making a mistake and is likely to be surprised in 20 -30 years when China becomes a leader in at least one field, likely more than one.

Pseudonymity and Anonymity II

Yesterday I gave an extensive overview of the debate that is ongoing between “Real name” supporters and “Pseudonym/Anonym” supporters. If you haven’t read it I suggest you check it out. There are quiet a few different groups of people discussing it, American and International.

Why do I think it’s a big deal though? I mentioned yesterday that I made a personal choice to use my real name instead of a pseudonym. This is partially because I’m really bad at coming up with them, but also because I try to speak with my real voice as much as possible. I’m also aware that this is could have some repercussions depending on what I try to do after I graduate. I haven’t also been the most supportive of the US government. At  one point when I was debating with a hardcore conservative he pointed this out to me as well.

The problem is that we don’t know who has our information. We lose control of it as soon as it’s put on the internet. I have no idea who has access to the conversation I’m talking about. I know that Facebook and the people involved in the conversation do, but I don’t know if that information got passed onto any sort of governmental body.

This is a huge change from what has happened in the past. We had control over who we gave our information to. It was easy because it had to be face to face or perhaps through a letter. Once that conversation was finished unless notes were taken or it was recorded most of the information would only be remembered only imperfectly by the people involved. This is not the case now. it can be stored and recalled perfectly through the internet and web records.

This permanence is dangerous, as the past will haunt people for decades to come instead of only a few years and only with their friends. However, that is not all. Forcing people to use their real names in all cases causes a chilling affect on activism as governments try to stamp down on it. Twitter will be a more popular communication tool for activists than Google + or facebook because of their pseudonym policies.

Regardless of if we like it or not, Facebook, Twitter, Google + and other social networking sites have become our public forums. We don’t have a town square to meet and discuss life. We don’t have the community unity that once used to pervade life so we use the tools that we have. However, all of these new meeting places are controlled by corporations that are required to give data to the US government and other governments as well. The ability to protect your identity from the government, other organizations and from people you don’t want to have find you is important. It allows people to be honest and investigate different parts of themselves or try to fight to bring down repressive regimes.

Pseudonyms are part of the internet’s social norms, a method to protect free speech and to protect yourself. They are very important and we need to fight to keep them. The US government should be seeking to protect our ability to have pseudonyms and not fighting against them. The State Department claims they support internet freedom. Supporting pseudonyms and the ability to be anonymous on the internet is the best way to do so.

Economics III

I’m sorry it’s been so long between my last couple posts. I’ve been pretty busy. Brian just moved to Eindhoven from Austin, so I’ve been hanging out with him, moving to our new place, and then I just read a dance with dragons. In addition to that, I’ve also started working on my research project for the summer. Hopefully things will settle down now and I’ll be able to post blogs more frequently.

So, last week, I was beating up on the neoclassical growth model and my friend came running to it’s defense. He had a good point. The best way to predict the weather is based on what today’s weather is. This might work passably well, but will fail pretty quickly here in the Netherlands and in Pittsburgh. It works really well in Austin. Hot today, going to be hot tomorrow. A better way to predict is to create a range of likely outcomes through simulation. This is what the weather man does on the news. They run simulations based upon the current conditions as well as conditions in the surrounding areas to make a better prediction than just walking outside.

Evolutionary economics is based upon these same ideas. Many of the models are more like climate models rather than mathematical equations. These models have predicted crashes similarly to what happened in 2007, based upon the rules of our economy and behaviors of people within the system. There have been some models that have attempted to create models very similarly to the neoclassical models, which are able to account for more of the differences between growth rates within countries.

I prefer the simulation approach over the mathematical models, because you are able to easily change things. As we have more control over our economy than the weather, these changes can reflect policy choices, changes in regulation as well as increases or decreases in government spending. As these changes build on each other the system can simulate how a series of changes within a short time period may impact the system.

The other benefit of evolutionary economics over neoclassical is the clear tie to how science, technology and education impact the economy. These factors are typically left in the residual or the measure of our ignorance in neoclassical economics. Changes in the rate of adoption or creation of new technologies and scientific breakthroughs can impact the long term health of an economy which everyone knows, but the economists haven’t done the best job showing it under neoclassicalism. If they had, then we would never be cutting education and science funding first. We would be pouring money into these systems to try to spur more discoveries!

Neoclassical economics was useful, however, I think the time for it has passed as it is unable to deal with the complexity of the world. Evolutionary economics looks at the economy as a complex system and is designed to handle it.

Further reading:
Origin of Wealth: http://www.amazon.com/Origin-Wealth-Evolution-Complexity-Economics/dp/157851777X

Controversies III – Evolution

So, we have some ideas for how to deal with climate change. Will they work? I don’t know. I hope my friends that read my last post will discuss will educate themselves on climate change and work to talk with their friends about it. Also, let me know if you do and how it goes!

How do we deal with evolution though? This one is a lot trickier, not that dealing with climate change is easy (but I think my idea is a step in the right direction). People who are much smarter than I am have been attempting to tackle this one for some time, including Richard Dawkins who is extremely knowledgeable about the topic. He wrote a fantastic book about evolution called “The greatest show on Earth” where he discusses each of the “counter” claims of ID (Intelligent design) advocates.

However, in some ways this is even besides the point. The major issue is that people are trying to remove evolution from the classroom. This is the biggest problem. This would destroy our capabilities to compete in the future in biomedical applications.

Why are people trying to fight evolution? Well, they feel that it will drive people to atheism. This isn’t true. There are many people that have figured out ways to reconcile their religious beliefs with evolution. The biggest problem is that it directly contradicts the bible. Which in the US there is a growing minority that take the bible literally. The next issue is the growing minority that falsely claim the US is a “Christian Nation” which this CNN contributor debunks.

It appears that we need to not just worry about scientific accuracy but also historical. For it is impossible to really understand the “controversy” without understanding the context that it is being framed within. Without this claimed backdrop there would be no basis under which to fight having evolution in school classes. Evolution is not a religion. With the pope accepting it, it’s as much of a part of catholicism as it is part of secular humanism or part of the accepted scientific facts of an atheist. Since the supporters of ID place the argument within this framework though we must first refute the framework of a christian nation and from there we can show that it is impossible to teach ID in school while evolution must be taught in school.

Additional ponderable thoughts:
Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” is a 1973 essay by the evolutionary biologist and Russian Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky, criticising anti-evolution creationism and espousing theistic evolution. The essay was first published in the American Biology Teacher, volume 35, pages 125-129. (Wikipedia)

We teach our vets, doctors, nurses and pharmacists biology. Without a clear understanding of biology from a young age the quality of our healthcare can only go down. As a country we will not be able to stay on top of the life sciences research and pharmaceutical production.

If we fail to education our students on biology how do we keep up, and how to we keep our economy running?