Science or not science

One of the important aspects of an information age is the continual quest for new knowledge. That quest is only made possible by raising more and more detailed questions. That is, as Thomas Kuhn pointed out long ago, the process of normal science. Paradigm shifts occur when the process of normal science can no longer adequately answer the questions. Then, is it right to dismiss a theory simply because is does not explain every detail of the phenomena understudy? Sharon Begley, the Wall Street Journal’s science writer thinks not (Yes, Evolution Still Has Unanswered Questions; That’s How Science Is)

Advocates of teaching creationism (or its twin, intelligent design) have adopted the slogan, “Teach the controversy.” That sounds eminently sensible. But it is disingenuous.
. . .
Gaps in knowledge? Of course. Every ongoing field of science has them. Physicists can’t explain why elementary particles have the masses and other traits they do, but that doesn’t invalidate the basic theory of matter. It just means scientists have to keep trying. Say “God did it” if you like, but that isn’t science.
Evolution is as well-established by empirical observation as other sciences. There is no serious debate that evolution happens, only deeper questions (left to college and graduate school), such as whether it proceeds gradually or in spasms. “It’s dishonest to single out evolution,” Prof. Carroll says, “when the very nature of science is to have unresolved questions.”

Good point!

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May employment

May’s employment numbers came out this morning. BLS reported the unemployment rate dropped to 5.1%, but non-farm payroll employment increased by only 78,000, well below expectations.
Bottom line: Managers and professions continue to have the lowest unemployment rates and construction and farm workers the highest. However, unemployment rates for the blue collar occupations (construction, farm, production, transport) have declined. May was a bad month for managers, but ok for professionals, service, and construction. Sales jobs declined compared to April, but are up significantly over May 2004.
Interestingly, the unemployment rate for production workers declined while manufacturing lost 7,000 jobs. The reason is that manufacturing companies actually added production workers while getting rid of other jobs.
Managerial, professional, office and installation/repair occupations (what we might consider the upper, middle and blue-collar “information” economy positions) increased over 661,000 from May 2004 to May 2005. But declined slightly as a percentage of the total work force to 52%.
Here is the breakdown by occupation (note – these are not seasonally adjusted, so both monthly change and the change from the same month last year are given as the monthly change may be seasonally related):
Management, business, and financial operations occupations:
continues to have a below average unemployment rate (2.3%); up from April but down from 3% in May 2004. Employment down (206,000) from last month and down (137,00) from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) down by 183,000 from last month and down 280,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Professional and related occupations:
below average unemployment rate (2.4%); up from April but down from 2.6% in May 2004. Employment up significantly (323,000) from last month and up significantly (776,000) from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) up significantly by 388,000 from last month and up significantly 730,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Service occupations:
above average unemployment rate (6.5%); down from April but up from 6% in May 2004. Employment up (447,000) from last month and up (216,000) from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) up significantly by 529,000 from last month and up 357,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Sales and related occupations:
average unemployment rate (5.1%); up slightly from April and up slightly from 5.1% in May 2004. Employment down (111,000) from last month but up significantly 870,000 from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) down by 110,000 from last month and up significantly 921,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Office and administrative support occupations:
average unemployment rate (4.8%); up from April but down from 5% in May 2004. Employment up (25,000) from last month but down by 157,000 from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) up by 68,000 from last month but down 202,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations:
slightly above average unemployment rate (6.4 %); down significantly from April and down significantly from 8.6% in May 2004. Employment up (24,000) from last month but down by 53,000) from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) the same as last month but down by 82,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Construction and extraction occupations:
slightly above average unemployment rate (6.3%); down from April and down from 7.8% in May 2004. Employment up (234,000) from last month and up significantly by 876,000) from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) up by 164,000 from last month and up significantly by 791,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations:
below average unemployment rate (3.4 %); down from April and down from 4% in May 2004. Employment down by 18,000 from last month but up by 179,000 from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) down by 69,000 from last month but up 152,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Production occupations:
slightly above average unemployment rate (5.7 %); down from April and down from 6.9% in May 2004. Employment the same as last month and up (194,000) from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) down by 51,000 from last month but up by 83,000 from same month last year (May 2004).
Transportation and material moving occupations:
average unemployment rate (5.2 %); down from April and down from 7.2% in May 2004. Employment down by 65,000 from last month and down (41,000) from same month last year (May 2004); total number of people in this occupation (working or looking for a job) down by 155,000 from last month and down by 230,000 from same month last year (May 2004).

Changing music

A number of earlier postings have focused on the impact of information technology on the business of music. Now Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, has written a wonderful summary of recent books about the impact of information technology on music itself: “The Record Effect: How technology has transformed the sound of music.”
The article is an enlightening description of how the art and craft of music changed because of recording technology, starting with John Philip Sousa prediction that recordings would lead to the demise of music.
I found the discussion about recording versus live performance especially interesting – including the following passage about the decline the concert experience:

In 1964, Glenn Gould made a famous decision to renounce live performance. In an essay published two years later, “The Prospects of Recording,” he predicted that the concert would eventually die out, to be replaced by a purely electronic music culture. He may still be proved right. For now, live performance clings to life, and, in tandem, the classical-music tradition that could hardly exist without it. As the years go by, Gould’s line of argument, which served to explain his decision to abandon the concert stage, seems ever more misguided and dangerous. Gould praised recordings for their vast archival possibilities, for their ability to supply on demand a bassoon sonata by Hindemith or a motet by Buxtehude. He gloried in the extraordinary interpretive control that studio conditions allowed him. He took it for granted that the taste for Buxtehude motets or for surprising new approaches to Bach could survive the death of the concert-that somehow new electronic avenues could be found to spread the word about old and unusual music. Gould’s thesis is annulled by cold statistics: classical-record sales have plunged, while concert attendance is anxiously holding steady.
. . .
A few months after Gould published his essay, the Beatles, in a presumably unrelated development, played their last live show, in San Francisco. They spent the rest of their short career working in the recording studio.

Ross goes on to decry the death of concerts as a blow to art. He does not go on to describe how this latest wave of IT – file sharing of digitized copies – may be leading to a return to the concert tour. That is something that his New Yorker colleague James Surowiecki wrote about just a few weeks earlier in “Hello Cleveland” (see my earlier posting “The new music industry“).
Surowiecki’s argument about the return of touring is clearly true in popular music – because it is being driven as much by the artists as the fans. It remains to be seen whether classical music will
(and can) move in the same direction. Some months ago I posted a piece on how the San Francisco Symphony is gaining a strong following (The innovative organization – not what you think). But I have no real evidence one way or another.
The old cliche is that technology changes everything. If in fact concerts are the new wave of the music future, another cliche might be more appropriate: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Trade theory doesn’t always work

Surprise, surprise, surprise. Economists are finding that classical trade theory doesn’t seem to explain what is happening (or not happening, in this case). As a story in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Dollar Can’t Close Gap” explains:

Economists, puzzled that a weaker dollar hasn’t done more to shrink the U.S. trade deficit, think one reason may be the growing flow of goods moving between the foreign and U.S. divisions of large multinationals.
Forty-two percent of all U.S. trade in goods, $950 billion last year, occurs between arms of the same companies, including U.S.-based companies trading with their foreign divisions as well as foreign companies trading with their U.S. arms. Nearly 90% of U.S. imports from Ireland are such “related party” trade, as are 74.6% from Singapore, 62.1% from Germany and 61.1% from Mexico.
“When so much of trade is related-party moves, the determining driver is demand in the U.S., not shifts in exchange rates,” says Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist of global wealth and investment at Bank of America.
. . .
Economic theory says that as the dollar declines, the trade balance should shift in the U.S.’s favor, usually with a delay of about 18 months after the currency starts moving downward. But it has been more than three years since the dollar started its slide, although it has recovered some ground recently, and there is little evidence of a significant impact on trade.
. . .
Gary Hufbauer, an economist at the Institute for International Economics, says companies with factories around the world, in theory, should be quicker to respond to shifting exchange rates because they see more immediately where it is cheap to produce and where the markets are strongest. But, in fact, he says, this isn’t how it works in practice.
One reason is that in large markets like the U.S., with many competitors, companies that import products are competing with domestic producers who don’t face the same pressure from the latest currency swings. As a result, importers are hesitant to raise prices to offset a falling dollar, because that would likely cut into market share, says Mr. Hufbauer. That, in turn, short-circuits one of the main ways in which a falling currency is supposed to curb imports.
Moreover, all producers face large fixed costs, regardless of where they build their plants, especially in industries such as autos and electronics that increasingly rely on advanced production technology and costly distribution systems. These companies are more inclined to choose production locations around the world and set prices according to competitive conditions in each market, rather than currency rates.

Seems like it isn’t your grandfather’s Ricardoian trade world any more.

Sweden changes its law

An update on the earlier posting on file sharing, Movie piracy – China, Russia . . . and Sweden. This story from Reuters.com

Sweden’s parliament approved a law on Wednesday that bans the downloading of copyrighted material such as films and music from the Internet after being singled out for criticism by Hollywood.
Sweden had until now allowed downloading of files, while uploading, or putting material on the Web, was illegal.

Interestingly,

The new Swedish law allows people to make one copy of a CD for personal use and to make copies of newspaper articles.