Kelly says cost of mortgage forgiveness ‘not enormous’ – The Irish Times – Fri, Aug 19, 2011

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Kelly says cost of mortgage forgiveness ‘not enormous’ – The Irish Times – Fri, Aug 19, 2011.


A DEBT forgiveness scheme to relieve homeowners in mortgage distress would cost “in the region of €5-€6 billion”, UCD professor of economics Morgan Kelly has said.

In a keynote address to the Irish Society of New Economists in Dublin yesterday, Prof Kelly delivered what he described as some “good news”.

“We are talking sums in the region of €5 billion to €6 billion which would be necessary to spend on mortgage forgiveness, which by our standards are not very large,” he said.

You read it here first, folks!

Where did it all go so badly wrong? (Part V – Language)

February 11, 2011


Language has the important property of ‘framing’ arguments and discussions.

The crime debate in the UK was dominated by the phrase ‘short, sharp, shock’, which relied on the folk theory that quick and severe punishment would shock teenagers out of criminal tendencies. (The pleasing alliteration of the successive sibilants was an important, but useless, selling point too). Short, sharp shocks, of course, predictably have no such effect, but why let data from the psychology of punishment and from criminology influence debate?

The phrase ‘cut and run’ was used to forestall debate about the palpably-failing US military strategy in Iraq, until empirical reality forced a change of direction.

The debate in Ireland over privatisation uses phrases designed to prevent discussion, such as ‘selling off the family silver ware’* or, much less analytically, that privatisation is ‘stupid’ (Ex-Minister Ryan). Who wants to be stupid? O course silver plates aren’t much good if you don’t have the food to eat from them. In the UK, the privatisation debate is about how a ‘war chest’ can be created for stimulus purposes. The consequences of the language used about privatisation frames very different outcomes. Unless one believes that the current configuration of Government ownership of assets is exactly optimal (an unfalsifiable position), then privatisation is reasonable to consider. It is our capital after all, and can be used to solve problems. By some estimates, the ESB is worth about €7.5 B**; there are perhaps 750,000 mortgages in the country. Privatisation would allow the quick writing down of these mortgages by €100,000 a piece, relieving enormous and growing distress, and giving the banks additional working capital to relieve other logjams in the economy. I am sure there are a thousand good reasons why this policy can’t be enacted, but there are 750,000 reasons why it could. And it is our money anyway, isn’t it?!

*This remark is in comment  # 1, not the article itself, which makes a good argument against privatisations. However, things have changed a bit since August 3rd.

**I can’t find where I read this estimate, but there are relevant numbers here.

The full series is available as an article:  Where did it all go wrong article in pdf.

Funding for scientific research holding – Forfás – The Irish Times – Tue, Aug 16, 2011

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Funding for scientific research holding – Forfás – The Irish Times – Tue, Aug 16, 2011.

Funding for scientific research holding – Forfás

DICK AHLSTROM, Science Editor

STATE FUNDING for scientific research has held up well in spite of the recession, the head of Forfás has said.

Forfás, the policy advisory board for enterprise and science, has released the latest figures for State sector research funding, with detailed returns for 2009 and estimated figures for 2010.

Report available here.

Irish health system is ‘most efficient’ in world

August 14, 2011 1 comment

Here’s a remarkable story, via The Guardian. It seems to have not been reported in the press here at all (at least I haven’t found a reference to it).  I wonder why the HSE hasn’t been all over it?

The NHS is one of the most cost-effective health systems in the developed world, according to a study (pdf) published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

The “surprising” findings show the NHS saving more lives for each pound spent as a proportion of national wealth than any other country apart from Ireland over 25 years. Among the 17 countries considered, the United States healthcare system was among the least efficient and effective. [emphasis added]

Here’s the paper. And below is the abstract:

Comparing the USA, UK and 17 Western countries’ efficiency and effectiveness in reducing mortality

Colin Pritchard1 and Mark S Wallace2

1School of Health & Social Care, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK
2Department of Economics, Latymer School, London, UK

Correspondence to: Colin Pritchard. Email:


Objectives To test the hypothesis that the USA healthcare system was superior to the NHS and 17 other Western countries in reducing feasible mortality rates over the period 1979–2005.

Design Economic inputs into healthcare, GDP health expenditure (GDPHE) were compared with clinical outputs, i.e. total ‘adult’ (15–74 years) and ‘older’ (55–74 years) mortality rates based upon three-year average mortality rates for 1979–81 vs. 2003–2005. A cost-effective ratio was calculated by dividing average GDPHE into reduced mortality rates over the period.

Setting Nineteen Western countries’ mortality rates compared between 1979–2005.

Participants Mortality of people by age and gender.

Main outcome measures A cost-effective ratio to measure efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare systems in reducing mortality rates. Chi-square tested any differences between the USA, UK and other Western countries.

Results Input: The USA had the highest current and average GDPHE; the UK was 10th highest but joint 16th overall, still below the Western countries’ average. Output: Every country’s mortality rate fell substantially; but 15 countries reduced their mortality rates significantly more than the US, while UK ‘adult’ and ‘older’ mortality rates fell significantly more than 12 other countries. Cost-effectiveness: The USA GDPHE: mortality rate ratio was 1:205 for ‘adults’ and 1:515 for ‘older’ people, 16 Western countries having bigger ratios than the US; the UK had second greatest ratios at 1:593 and 1:1595, respectively. The UK ratios were >20% larger than 14 other countries.

Conclusions In cost-effective terms, i.e. economic input versus clinical output, the USA healthcare system was one of the least cost-effective in reducing mortality rates whereas the UK was one of the most cost-effective over the period.

© 2011 Royal Society of Medicine Press

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The brain melting internet (via Mind Hacks)

August 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The brain melting internet Susan Greenfield has been wibbling to the media again about how the internet is melting the brains of young children. Quite frankly, I've become fed up with discussing the evidence that refutes such outlandish claims but The Lay Scientist has a brilliant parody that manages to catch the main thrust behind her argument. I thought I caught my brain melting when reading it but it turns out I had actually wet myself. That's why science is so hard you … Read More

via Mind Hacks

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On the utter fatuity of rational man — Crooked Timber (or why Matt Damon is brilliant)

August 6, 2011 Leave a comment

On the utter fatuity of rational man — Crooked Timber.

Here is a comment from Maria at Crooked Timber, on a great piece of commentary on education and teacher performance by Matt Damon, no less, via Pharyngula:

Maybe that’s what happened to the girl from In this video clip (spotted on BoingBoing a couple of days ago) Matt Damon responds to her assertion that he works hard because acting is insecure, therefore teachers would be better if their ‘incentives’ were similar. Coz it’s in their interest to, see?

Asking a man who financially never needs to work again to agree that the fear of not having a job is what motivates him/teachers is head-scratchingly silly.

By the by, in the BoingBoing comments, Cory Doctorow also makes a beautiful case for education as a public good:

Education is a public good. It is best supplied and paid for by the group as a whole, because no individual or small collective can produce the overall social benefit that the nation can provision collectively.

Education doesn’t respond well to market forces because many of the social goods that arise from education—socialization, a grounding in civics, historical context, rational and systematic reasoning—are not goods or services demanded by a market, but rather they are the underlying substrate that allows people to intelligently conduct transactions in a marketplace as well as establishing and maintaining good governance.

There is a long and wide body of evidence that people with wide, solid educational foundations that transcend mere vocational skills produce societies that are more prosperous, more transparent, healthier, more democratic—that attain, in short, all the things we hope markets will attain for us.

… But functional democracies require that all people—not just those who are already wealthy—are given the foundational knowledge that allows them to prosper and participate in the full range of social activities that make nations great.

Blogging has been very slow here, but I thought this was so nicely expressed it was worth reposting. This is certainly true of first and second level – but the best University system in the world (the US) has a mixed private and public provision model based on astonishing diversity of options.


Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: E-textbooks flunk an early test

May 16, 2011 1 comment

Rough Type: Nicholas Carr’s Blog: E-textbooks flunk an early test.

I knew there was a reason I don’t really like these things:

One of the key themes emerging from the study, as well as from earlier research into reading behavior, is that people in general and students in particular read in a variety of ways. Sometimes they immerse themselves in a text, reading without interruption. Sometimes they skim a text to get a quick sense of the content or the argument. Sometimes they search a text for a particular piece of information or a particular topic. Sometimes they skip back and forth between two or more sections of a text, making comparisons. And sometimes they take notes, make marginal annotations, or highlight passages as they read. Reading is, moreover, a deeply personal, highly idiosyncratic activity, subject to all kinds of individual quirks. Every reader is unique.

Because we’ve come to take printed books for granted, we tend to overlook their enormous flexibility as reading instruments. It’s easy to flip through the pages of a physical book, forward and backward. It’s easy to jump quickly between widely separated sections, marking your place with your thumb or a stray bit of paper or even a hair plucked from your head (yes, I believe I’ve done that). You can write anywhere and in any form on any page of a book, using pen or pencil or highlighter or the tip of a burnt match (ditto). You can dog-ear pages or fold them in half or rip them out. You can keep many different books open simultaneously, dipping in and out of them to gather related information. And when you just want to read, the tranquility of a printed book provides a natural shield against distraction. Despite being low-tech – or maybe because of it – printed books and other paper documents support all sorts of reading techniques, they make it easy to shift seamlessly between those techniques, and they’re amenable to personal idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.

E-books are much more rigid. Refreshing discrete pages of text on a fixed screen is a far different, and far less flexible, process than flipping through pliant pages of fixed text. By necessity, a screen-based, software-powered reading device imposes navigational protocols and routines on the user, allowing certain patterns of use but preventing or hindering others. All sorts of modes of navigation and reading that are easy with printed books become more difficult with electronic books – and even a small degree of added difficulty will quickly frustrate a reader. Whereas a printed book adapts readily to whoever is holding it, an e-book requires the reader to adapt to it.

I can imagine that the e-book readers will end up being integrated as just another tool among the many others that students and others will end up using. Certainly when the number of books and papers you need to consult rises above one, an e-book reader becomes just another information provision artifact (and paper has worked well for rather a long time!).

And we underestimate the importance of cognitive mapping and embodied cognition among a host of other variables for reading and recall:

The researchers provide an illuminating case study showing how important cognitive mapping can be:

[One student] used kinesthetic cues such as folded page corners and the tangible weight of the printed book to help him locate content quickly. He told us that “after I’ve spent some time with the physical book, I know … exactly how to open it to the right page. … I kind of visually can see where I am in the book.” His physical experience with the text changed dramatically when he began using his Kindle DX: He lost these kinesthetic cues and spent much more time hunting for information than he had previously done. He stopped using the Kindle DX for his assigned academic readings because he wanted to remain as productive and efficient as he was before he received his Kindle DX.

Actual empirical evidence on alternate pedagogical methods is important!

Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Promoting Research and Development: The Government’s Role

Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Promoting Research and Development: The Government’s Role.

Promoting Research and Development: The Government’s Role

“… Governments in many countries directly support scientific and technical research, for example, through grant-providing agencies (like the National Science Foundation in the United States) or through tax incentives (like the R&D tax credit). In addition, the governments of the United States and many other countries run their own research facilities, including facilities focused on nonmilitary applications such as health. The primary economic rationale for a government role in R&D is that, absent such intervention, the private market would not adequately supply certain types of research …” (more)

[HT: Philip Lane]
[Ben S Bernanke, Federal Reserve System website, 16 May]

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