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Saturday, November 19, 2011

How Much Should Society Invest In X-Prizes

  Some time ago I quoted from a review of Sex, Science and Profits by Terence Kealey, I have been reading it and thoroughly reccommend it though not agreeing with the conclusions that patents should be abolished and that state funding of science never works. It is a history of human progress with market freedom in the role of hero and government parasitism as villain.

  He mentions and disagrees with, Edwin Mansfield, who says
"that "primary" producers will underinvest in research because their profits are stolen by "secondary" commercial customers. So, for example, when a seed-breeder (the primary producer) develops a new seed, much of the profit from the new seed is extracted by the farmers (the secondary commercial customers) who plant it. Indeed, surveys have shown that secondary commercial customers can benefit about three times more from innovations than do the primary producers."
   I have previously written on how the patent system does not and probably cannot protect intellectual property rights as well as traditional rights to land, labour and capital are protected by the law though I think that in the long term technological innovators add far more to human wealth than the holders of traditional property rights  (cavemen owned far more land per capita than us but were poorer because they didn't have the technology. However is puts a fixed price on the value of intellectual property.

   I believe that it is desirable to protect the rights of wealth creators to much of the wealth they create, not for reasons of justice but because it provides the incentive to do so" I also believe that if inventors were rewarded better than they are now they would be not far from proportionally more productive - this is a point with which Professor Kealey seems to disagree.

  That being the case ideally inventors should be getting something close to 4 times the return they do now. I have not been able to find figures for what patent holders worldwide receive and possibly such figures cannot exist because some of their profit comes from licensing and some from their own production. However I do have figures for the amount of world GNP devoted to research and development. It varies between 4% for Israel, 1.7% for the UK and fractions of a % for undeveloped countries but in total comes to $1 trillion out of world GNP of $75 trillion ie 1.33%. I assume that the amount spent on R&D is not greater than the profits on doing it.

  In which case, to bring the return on intellectual property in technological innovation up to what experience suggests is optimum for other factors of production, society should be rewarding researchers and developers with 4% of world GNP (1.33% X 3).

   The problem with doing so, as Professor Kealey says, is that the effect of government funding of science has been, according to an OECD report (and they are unlikely to be biased against government), negative. Government tends to fund the established and politically connected and, as with catastrophic warming, subvert science to the results government wants. Rewarding the R&D community this way would not have the desired effect.

   Professor Kealy challenges "that no one - no one - has shown that the government funding of science stimulates economic growth" and I think I can match that challenge.

   Grants don't do it but prizes do. I do not think anybody could dispute that the Longitude Prize stimulated John Harrison to produce the marine chronometer, leading directly to the discovert of Australia and New Zealand (or that any but the most refined could think this a bad thing). That Prize is one of a substantial list of such prizes which have repeatedly achieved remarkable success. See here ("undue stimulus to competition") and here and here and here and here and here and here (Archimedes, used in the book as an example of free markets is used by me as an example of government prizes).

   In which case, if prizes really are an effective stimulus to technology the optimum would be to put 4% of world GNP ($3 trillion worldwide, £60 billion in the UK) into such prizes even without reducing patents. Arguably proportionately more in wealthy countries since our proportion of GNP invested in T&D is already higher.

   I have previously suggested 1% as a target and being inherently cautious in political criticism (really I am it is just that the idiocies of those in charge are so glaring) I would now only raise that total initially to 2%. Let's see how 2% goes. But I would certainly be confident that 2% is not in any way excessive and would more than pay for itself by increasing Britain's GNP by more than 2%, priobably considerablt more.

    I previously pointed out how X-Prizes, when they work, do so at costs 33-100 times less than government grants (when they don't work they cost zero because no prize is awarded). I have also written of the Harvard paper that said prizewinners normally recoup only 1/3rd of their costs through the prize. This suggests that the benefit of putting up £60 billion annually would be between £180 billion in immediate investment and £6 trillion in foregone government wastefulness. Since the entire economy is £1.5 trillion I would treat the last figure as purely theoretical but the effect looks like a game changer.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Decorum Means Acknowledging Error

  This is a post that I put on John Redwood's blog. John had written an intelligent post following Armistice Day more in sorry than anger about the waste of WW1 and European wars of the 20th C generally but containing the quoted bit. I intended to suggest that current leaders were not so different and that sometimes the cost of war is inescapable. I did rather expect to be edited on the final paragraph because it is so outspokenly supportive of the Serbs. John having been in cabinet at the time we first intervened in Yugoslavia but was surprised that he took the unusual step of censoring the entire thing.
“I still cannot accept the way the politicians and generals accepted death on such a huge scale. ”
Not that rare. After all throughout the cold war the politicians and generals accepted Mutual Assured destruction (MAD) which assumed deaths on a scale at least 10 times that of WW1. That was horrible and I think it was wrong because I do not believe the USSR ever wished to start and “win” a war – they just wanted to be left alone too. But if you accept that both the Soviets and the Kaiser were bent on world conquest, as were were told at the times, it is difficult to say we should not have accepted such casualties.
I used to be proud about how we stood against the horrors of Nazism but when we, merely to get German permission to opt out of the Euro, supported criminal regimes run by “ex-”Nazis in former Yugoslavia openly committed to the racial genocide of the Serbs I came to feel that our opposition to Hitler was more accidental and less principled than we are told. Certainly if our schools had taught the history of Nazi genocide against Soviets, Serbs and Gypsies instead of pretending the only victims were our Jewish allies I very much doubt if the British people would have supported our government’s promotion of atrocities against the Serbs more than matching Hitler’s in individual evil if not in pure numbers.

  Readers will understand that I respect John very much but when anybody is wrong I think they should consider and usually acknowledge it. That is the path to not doing it again.
  Some years ago in response to another commemoration article by him I suggested that the error in British tactics in WW1 was sending a massive army to the Western Front at all and that we should have instead put our resources into providing the best weapons to the Russian, Serbian and Italian armies - bringing them up to close to a technical equality with the Germans, in which case numbers would have overwhelmed them. That would have included armoured car squadrons to the Russian front where they would have had full room for manoieuvre. That would not have involved death on a mass scale, at least for Brits, but it would have been a policy aimed at success rather than one primarily aimed at lower casualties and the 2 tend to be incompatible. Ut would also have been in line with the traditional policy we pursued in Napoleonic times.

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So Not a Cooncillor

I'm afraid I got only 36 votes in the Hilhead byelection. It was an abysmal turnout of 13% so that comes to 1.2%

On the good side that is 10 times the proportion UKIP got across Scotland in the Scottish election though obviously that was diluted by areas where we had no membership. So from little acorns....

If it matters the winning faction of the NatLabConDem political machine was the Nat one. On 1st preference SNP 1079, Labour 945, Green 435, Tory 372, LudDim 307, UKIP 36, Britannic 11 I should perhaps point oiut that, at the last election, the BNP/Britannic stood in Maryhill, part of which is Hillhead annd UKIP didn't so getting 3 times their vote is useful.

  This is what the press - well online and the only one there - printed
Neil Craig of UK Independence Party (UKIP) picked up one vote between stage one and stage two to go from 36 to 37. Running a science fiction book shop in Woodlands, he said his was the only party in Scotland that believed a ‘free market really works.’ Expelled from the Lib Dems because he believed in a free market, he said, he admitted he’d expected to do better. ‘But I’ve not done this before. It won’t put me off and I plan to run again in May at the Glasgow City Council elections.’ He pointed out that candidates were not allowed to put up posters. ‘That must have depressed the vote for everyone,’ he said.

  Which is quite good because it is a couple more lines than any of the others, even the winner, got. The reporter said she had been in the shop before which may explain it. Actually I said "we've not done this before" meaning UKIP in Hillhead rather than me personally.

On the other hand, to the BBC, UKIP weren't there.

  Note that only 1 of the 11 redistrubuted Britannic votes came to us - the other 5 parties presumably picking up an average of 2.  Not a big statistical population but worth reminding some of them sometime.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Cameron is an Arse and Will be Kicked Out Next Spring"

    I heard this on the morning news 3 days ago. The BBC correspondent gave his opinion that Cameron would either have to remove the Conservative Whip from Mercer expelling him from the party or ignore it  Any intermediate response would make him look incredibly weak.
A senior Tory MP was last night accused of launching a tirade of abuse against David Cameron in which he allegedly described the Prime Minister as an 'a**e'.
Former Army colonel Patrick Mercer was also claimed to have witheringly dismissed Mr Cameron as 'a despicable creature' and 'the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone'.
The extraordinary remarks were allegedly recorded at a party in Central London last week....
In the recording, obtained by the Sunday People, he claimed the Prime Minister would be ousted by next year.
Asked if backbenchers would launch a leadership coup, Mr Mercer replied: 'He'll go in the spring. He'll resign in the spring.'

According to reports last night, the Newark MP was taped as he attended the annual autumn party of The London Magazine.

....was allegedly recorded saying:

• 'Cameron was an a**e. That's a matter of fact, not politics.'

'I would take a beggar off the streets... rather than have Cameron.'

• 'He is the worst politician in British history since William Gladstone.'

• He wished Mr Cameron was never born
     Clearly Cameron has gone for the ignore it option which does indeed make him look incredibly weak. The BBC stuffed it down the memory hole 3 days ago. Granted Mercer has said he never said what he is heard saying on the tape but that is just pro forma. If it had been said if somebody the BBC didn't lie to help into the job of Tory leader imagine how long they would have pushed this. As Lincoln said you can't fool all of the people all of the time, on the other hand Parliamentary democracy means you only have to fool 36% every 5 years.

   Compare this with Howard Flight getting the Whip removed and deselected because he suggested the Tories, in 2005, should cut Labour's spending commitments (something which, in the current situation looks rather restrained). Difficult to claim Mercer is more on message than Flight was.

   Nonetheless all the MPs now know they can openly call for or indeed plot Cameron's removal and he is held in such contempt that he can do nothing. The circling MPs tasted blood in the Referendum debate and have now found that their prey is to weak to defend itself. The Conservative party is well known for its loyalty to leaders right up till they are wounded (eg Thatcher). Mind you, since Cameron has proven himself to have not the slightest trace of personal honesty or integrity whatsoever and managed the almost impossible trick of failing to win an election after Labour had destroyed the economy, only being rescued by the equally unprincipled Lud Dims he thoroughly deserves everything he is going to get.

   Next question - how long will it take the colleagues to start positioning themselves as successors? Next but next question - who gets it?

   Don't know what Mercer has got against Gladstone, a deeply principled and competent Prime Minister of the 19th C and iincomparably better than any current minister or shadow minister..

     Interestingly the online comments in the paper show a very similar degree of dislike of Cameron among these members of the public (and support of Gladstone).
 Mercer younger

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Singapore's X-Prize

   It seems that some time ago the government of Singapore put its toe in the water over X-Prizes.
Jan 24, 2007

Singapore Tuesday launched a contest to build a robot that can operate autonomously in urban warfare conditions, moving in and out of buildings to search and destroy targets like a human soldier. The country's Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) said on its website it is offering one million Singapore dollars (652,000 US) to the developers of such a robot that completes a stipulated task in the fastest time.

DSTA said individuals, companies, universities and research institutes are welcome to participate in the contest, dubbed TechX Challenge. Foreigners must to collaborate with local partners to join the contest....
The robot DSTA wants "must, on its own, be able to navigate both indoors and outdoors in an urban landscape and accomplish a set of assigned tasks within a stipulated time," he said.
This robot must be able to negotiate a staircase and use the elevator to dash from one floor to another even without the aid of satellite navigation which may not be available indoors.
Designing a robot that would be able to use an elevator, for example, will be a technological challenge, as not all elevators are designed similarly.

    Do tell. $625,000 for what amounts to one of Asimov's positronic robots, except without the aversion to killing looks a bit optimistic to me. Compare this with the US DARPA prize of $3 million for the far simpler task, though still very difficult, of driving, which they admited would have cost $100 million if done by the government.

   Sure enough nobody won.
Six teams, mostly sponsored by local schools and universities, battled all-nighters, malfunctioning cameras and total system failures in a competition that required fairly complex robotic maneuvers--navigating around outdoor obstacles, entering a building, climbing stairs, operating an elevator, touching targets and then returning outside--for a cash prize of about $700,000. But after one too many bots found itself stuck behind a trash can or confused by orange traffic cones before hundreds of fans here this weekend, Singapore's Defense Science & Technology Agency (DSTA) decided to split a smaller purse with about $7000 for each finalist.

    But then nobody else, working on traditional government grants has come close to positronic robots either. Not even come far away from them. And it does seem to have made some advances and engendered considerable interest in technology at a cost of $42 (£26 K).

   This reminds me of the Bigelow prize where this hotel magnate offered a prize of $50 million (1/10th of what Jerry Pournelle said would work and about 1/10,000th of what NASA has spent). He also put it up as a limited time prize which is clearly going to discourage many. In that case the suspicion is that it was put up far more to achieve publicity for his space hotel ideas, than for anybody actually winning.

   I suspect the same applies to the Singapore proposal.

    However they demonstrate that prizes are not magic and to work you must offer between 3% and 1% of what normal government grant giving process would require rather than 0.01% at least we have established an effective range.

   And we have demonstrated that even prizes that don't get won and therefore cost close to nothing still produce an impressive amount of interest and ideas.

    However we all have mixed motivations so it must also be assumed that Singapore at least understand X-Prizes and may do it more seriously next time.

Singapore have announced another $1milion TechX Prize 2013
allow the competing teams to address some of the challenges faced during urban operations. The competition will consist of several challenging tasks which simulate an urban operation scenario. The tasks include outdoor navigation, static and dynamic obstacle avoidance, autonomous staircase climbing, static target detection and engagement, and robotic co-operation (if applicable). Each team shall enter one robot or a team of no more than five robots...

DSTA will award One Million Singapore Dollars (SGD $1,000,000.00) to the Team whose robot(s) achieves the highest score beyond the set threshold, and within the maximum allowable time of 120 minutes.
  This seems much more realistic than the last one. "Address some of the challenges" & "beyond the set threshold" are much more practical than "must on its own be able negotiate a staircase and use the elevator to dash from one floor to another .... a technological challenge, as not all elevators are designed similarly" and a specific definable "threshold" which "will" result in an award is proper.

  Singapore now seems to be dipping most of its foot in the X-Prise paradigm.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freedom of Information Enquiries - Glasgow Council, SEPA, BBC and the Coalition Break the Law

  The law says that any member of the public can ask a public body for information and they have a legal duty to provide it, except in unusual situations like national security or material commercially sensitive to independent companies. This has to be done in 20 working days ) ie 28 days and no matter how simple actual answers never take less.Unfortunately it is becoming ever more common to simply ignore them and say the email got lost in the post.

   Back in August I asked Glasgow Council whether they had, before cancelling the Hogmanay celebrations because they were turning a massive loss on it with ticket prices of £19, whether they had offered to franchise it out to any commercial firm who might find £19 a head in an open air venue something they could profitably do?

   In due course the Council wrote back saying they knew nothing about this because they were in no way involved and it is all the responsibility of Glasgow Leisure, which looks exactly like the council  Museums and Parks Dept. When the council leader spoke to the BBC on the matter, taking credit for thus saving public money he seemed unaware that he was uninvolved.

    I did contact Glasgow Leisure  and have now reminded them that nearly 2 months later, they have not replied.

   Another FoI was to the BBC asking them how often the BBC allowed politicians to speak on air compared to their proven electoral support. In particular on "Brian's Big Debate" and "Question Time" . Have they, for example, had BNP representatives on twice as often as Green ones since the former get twice the vote of the latter.

   The BBC refused to answer on the grounds that there is an "artistic" get out clause in the Act and the impartiality of political reporting is an artistic matter. In fact we all know the answer - the BBC have Greens on almost constantly and are given so much obsequious support that they clearly believe they are entitled to it.
"I began, good naturedly, by observing that the climate didn’t seem to be playing ball at the moment, and that we were having a particularly cold winter while carbon emissions were powering ahead.

Miss Lucas reacted as if I’d ­physically molested her. She was outraged. It was no job of the BBC — the BBC! — to ask questions like that. Didn’t I realise that there could be no argument over the science?"
  In fact we all know perfectly well the answer to the questions the BBC refused to answer - the BNP has been on QT once and Brian never, UKIP do slightly better on QT and the Greens appear on both regularly. Despite the BNP getting twice the vote and UKIP four times and neither have experience of being treated as if there could be "no argument" with their policies and the Greens get 40 times more coverage per vote than UKIP

   SEPA have once again been pushing their "radium at Dalgety Bay" fraud which has had a significant amount of coverage by the BBC, who know it is a lie, but not by the papers, who presumably care more about not being seen pushing an obvious lie. I sent them an FoI asking them, yet again to provide the evidence for their claim to have found radioactive paint or "radium and its daughter elements".

   They have, yet again, simply refused to answer the FoI enquiry.pointing to their website.
    Earlier in the year I put up an FoI to the government asking, in light of David Cameron's promise of a "unrelenting forensic" pursuit of growth, what forensic examination of the suggestion for putting money donated to scientific research partly in the form of prizes rather than grants. It has been proven that prizes would promote significantly more growth at no extra cost. The government refused to answer despite numerous repetitions of the enquiry, until I made an official complaint. The final answer was, of course, that though we have Cameron's word that there is an "unrelenting forensic" attempt to find how to grow the economy in truth absolutely no slightest examination of the question whatsoever has been done.
   Perhaps if the law is to be so continuously defied it is time for the ombudsman to bring an actual prosecution. Certainly any civil servant in any way involved in breaking the law to deny us our rights should be instantly fired, as indeed should any superior who refuses to fire them.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Recent Reading & Some of My Comments

  Some of why the press support eco-fascist lies?

Bad news is the only good news

Journalists can only be as good as the sources they carefully select

Scientific laziness
A useful article on shale gas contains this:
In 1865 the English economist William Jevons noted that with energy “almost any feat is possible. … [but] without it we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times.” The economic history of the last century and a half has confirmed the insight of that observation, year in year out, without exception.
Human ingenuity has led to a dramatic evolution of advanced technologies and modern energy supplies that enable economic development. Similarly, history shows that energy demand not only increases in conjunction  with economic growth, but that the types of energy that we rely on also evolve with time.

Steve Sailer on research which has found 7 genes, in a genetically undifferentiated population, which correlate strongly with longevity. The most important converts cholesterol.
Wearable defibrillator can prevent 91.6% of heart attack deaths which can have 7 to 21% survival rates otherwise

Bishop Hill did an article on the Linear No Threshold theory. Other commenters were interested in this from me:

"the calculation of how many deaths one gets per green politician is validly subject to direct linear extrapolation. 25,000 premature deaths from fuel poverty each winter, assume only 50% are preventable by plentiful cheap nuclear or shale power divided by about 640 of the 650 MPs comes to 19-20 unnecesary killings each per year. That is a reasonable extrapolationn because no other factors get in the way. The difference with LNT is that the old rule "the dose makes the poison" applied precisely because we know many substances which kill at large doses are vital trace eleemts/vitamins at small doses. This "hormetic" effect is undeniable in many cases and likely in all.
In particular there is no experimental evidence whatsoever for LNT in radioactivity & never has been, whereas for around a century there has been proof of radiation hormesis in plants, mirobes and small laboratiory animals where such testing is ethical and possible."
John Redwood wrote on growth

“Controlling public spending is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for growth”
The sufficient and in the long term necessary condition for growth is

economic freedom + cheap energy = fast growth
We could have those any time the government wanted."
Steve Sailer has an interesting thought on the rise, since the 1950s of legal conditions that allow small minorities to prevent things going ahead. I think this correlates closely with the rise of ecofascism and the slowdown in western growth. Don't know which is cause and which effect or if they both have a deeper cause.

An interesting thought Steve. the risec of "minoritarianism" coindides with the rise of anti-technology scare stories (eg the LNT radiation theory was officially promulgated between 1959 & '63 though it had supporters before it was official and has become even more enforcably official since). The reinforcing connection is that the more scary theories the courts listen to the smaller the minorities who can claim to believe they are being harmed by allowing something. This leads to the situation where GM foods are largely suppressed on the extreme version of "precautionary principle" that if there is anybody, anywhere who believes there is a danger, albeit they can suggest no mechanism whereby it would work or test of the theory, it must be banned. This would be the reductio ad absurdaum of minority effects, with the minority effected reduced to zero, if it were not where we now are.
As somebody who thinks minority rights a sign of civilisation I can't object to some movement from the early 50s position. However it is easy to demonstrate that the net loss to the community must almost always be greater than the gain to the special interest group.
On the other hand it provides ever more work for lawyers which may explain it all.
Douglas Carswell suggests we now have less democracy than before the 1832 Reform Act.

That is a very interesting comparison slightly overstated. It took decades of popular will to abolish slavery and establish free trade. I could also point to wars (Crimea, WW1, Sudan campaign) which enjoyed overwhelming initial support and in hindsight were less necessary.
Democracy is quite good at limiting the day to day power of the state. Less so at resisting finding an out group (bankers, Jews, fuzzy wuzzies) to blame, tax and shoot at).
From Al Fin on continuing human evolution. - "We're beginning to see that it's an accumulation of small changes. Scientists have recently been able to compare the genomes of Neandertals and modern humans, which reveals just a .004 percent difference. Most of those changes lie in genes involved in sperm, testes, smell, and skin."

That looks like sexual selection being the main, even overwhelming, driver of evolition over the last 25,000 years. This seems not unlikely because such selection (ie the peacock's tail) is dominant in species where selection by being able to escape predators is less important and we reached the top of the food chain about then.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Public Meeting


            UKIP SCOTLAND

             Britain's 4th largest political party

                NEIL CRAIG

  • At least 75% and probably as much as 93% of the cost of electricity is governmental. We subsidise up to 36p per kwh for electricity that can be produced by the nuclear industry for 2.2p. It is this that is driving our industry abroad and has put us in recession and any politician who supports subsidy and claims to care about the million Scots homes in fuel poverty cannot be trusted on anything else either.

  • Clean streets should be a higher priority than keeping the council unions happy.

  • Neil proposed, as an alternative to the £300 million rail connection from Glasgow airport, a monorail to the main rail way line. When the Transport Minister challenged him to find a company to do so he did and they offered to build it for £20 million. That Labour/LibDem government refused the offer as did the subsequent SNP one who spent £40 million cancelling their predecessor's project.

  • End the ideological hatred of cars.

  • "Catastrophic global warming", endorsed by all the traditional parties is clearly false.



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