Friday, October 30, 2009

The price of credibility

I recently read this posting. Daniel Roodman of the Center for Global Development, after reading this posting on Easterly's Aid Watch, made the point that, if one wishes to credibility engage in genuine debate, one needs to be as critical in examining the arguments of one's supporters as of one's critics. Roodman went on to state that he thought Easterly had failed to do this in the case of one of his supporters, Dambisa Moyo.

I think this is a very good, though admittedly difficult, standard to hold people to.

Yet when I asked Mr. Roodman to apply it to his own post things got difficult. Easterly's post, which served as the inspiration for Roodman's, stated that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was knowingly using dubious statistics about Malaria prevalence in Africa to argue that malaria-fighting foreign aid initiatives had been very successful, when in fact the reality, according to Easterly, is much more complicated, and ultimately less rosy than the Gateses make it out to be.
As Roodman's Center for Global Development receives substantial funding from the Gates Foundation, I asked him. in the spirit of his own posting, to weigh in on the issue, i.e. did he think the Gateses were being responsible in their use of the Malaria statistics in question?

Sadly, he deferred, claiming ignorance of the Malaria issue and refusing to educate himself so that he might offer an informed opinion.

To what can we attribute this odd behavior? After formulating a very good principle "about what constitutes credible reasoning in the grand debates" and then applying it to Mr. Easterly, he fails utterly to follow it himself.

Finally and most ironically, Mr. Roodman may himself provide the answer to this question when he states in the same posting:

"Lets be frank: many think twice before criticizing the Gates Foundation because it is so big and funds so many organizations."

What a sad truth.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Finally the American Healthcare Industry is Competently Explained

This American Life consistently produces amazingly informative and interesting radio programs. Their latest two part series on Healthcare in America is another triumph. If you have any interest at all in understanding why American healthcare is so screwed up, or just want to listen to a very interesting story, take a listen.

The Loneliest Number, or Not?

According to this, the Greeks had quite a debate about whether 1 and certainly 0 were actually numbers. Some even weren't sure about 2's status.

I'm glad these days we've resolved those questions for ourselves. But it does make you marvel at the diversity of perceptions that can exist in people heads. Some Greek people actually didn't think that 2 was a number, while I literally cannot even imagine (I've been trying for a whole 5 minutes) to think of it as anything else.


Crafting an Argument

I just finished my analysis of the development of Integrated Coastal Management in the United States from its inception with the publication of the Stratton Commission report in 1969 and through the first 13 years of the Coastal Zone Management Act's implementation up to1985. After that I took a look at how ICM promoters exported ICM management principles to a couple of developing countries, Ecuador and Tanzania, from 1985 right up to almost the present day.

During the research for this analysis, I tried to show how, and why, ICM is a deeply culturally and historically entrenched management system. Following that in my review of ICM development efforts abroad I discussed how ICM promoters have failed to develop coastal management systems that are sustainable in contexts which are very foreign to the ones in which ICM itself developed in the United States.

My supervisor likes my argument but thinks it needs to be crafted more persuasively. I agree with him.

Then over on Bill Easterly's blog, which always manages to get people talking, I read this post in which Easterly suggests that the Aid community "hates" criticism while the Medical community "appreciates" it. His point was not a very radical one, namely that Medicine benefits from continuous rigorous testing of its efforts and that Aid should be more open to the possibility that such testing of its own efforts might improve its ability to support development. The need to evaluate one's progress should not be controversial. Society starts doing it to every 5 year old child when they enter kindergarten.

And yet the commentaries on this post picked away at Easterly's argument like vultures on a dead carcass. Some accused him of picking fights, while others accused him of being condescending, while still others quibbled with the extent to which the Medical community really appreciates criticism. Few actually engaged with his broader point.

Now comment sections on any blog are rarely known for their civility, but many of the people who do follow Easterly's blog are fairly knowledgeable people in fairly high-up places.

Being careful and deliberate in the way one crafts an argument is of course extremely important. But it certainly isn't heartening to know that no matter what you write someone, and these days it seems like a lot of people, are going to try and drag you into a fight.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Climate change, why so emotional?

So recently a chapter from the new book Superfreakanomics has sparked another round of the seemingly endless, and shrill, climate change debate. Why is this issue so emotional? The standard (and probably correct) answer is because of all the money that is tied to it. Having said that I suppose whenever talking about this topic it is prudent to give the disclaimer that I actually believe in human induced climate change. I'm not sure how much effect we are having, nor am I particularly optimistic that we can actually "combat" climate change. But, if we are to believe this article, we may not even have to.

With that said it should be blindingly obvious that there is no excuse for pumping more nasty stuff into our atmosphere than we absolutely have to. So I guess my point is since when did we need childish scary bedtime stories to motivate ourselves to do the right thing? Especially when those bedtime stories are often based on predictions that have proven to be about as accurate as a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale? All this does is give ammo to the SUV driving, rain forest destroying, private-jet flying, wackos who will take any excuse they can find to continue with their decadent and profligate lifestyles.

We don't need emotionally-driven campaigns to see the value in living frugally and stepping lightly on our lovely planet.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist, has won the Noble Prize for economics. Here she is on youtube talking about the limitations of Hardins Tragedy of the Commons concept. Its very good. This book seems to represent her thoughts most fully. Ive put it on my reading list.


A Korean Review of American Coastal Management

Lately I’ve been translating a scholarly article by one Park Min Gyu of the Korean Maritime Institute. In it he takes a look at U.S. Fisheries management policies and in particular at the U.S. Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (FCMA). His goal is to review U.S. practice and see how it may apply to Korean fisheries.

One of the interesting things about the article is that despite mentioning a long list of other U.S. coastal and marine laws and regulations, it fails utterly to comment on the U.S. Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA). This is odd because the CZMA was the foundation upon which modern American coastal and marine management was built. It also provided the first model to which international development efforts to improve coastal management looked for guidance.

Yet this Korean article completely ignores the CZMA in favor of reviewing other U.S. legislation with much more technical and species specific goals such as the FCMA (which established ITQs), or the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, or the Driftnet Impact Monitoring, Assessment and Control Act of 1987.

Certainly one article can’t be expected to look at everything. However there may be other reasons for the CZMA’s absence. Generally in its efforts to modernize, Korea has shown great skill at adapting and adopting Western practices while at the same time resisting cultural, and even political, Westernization. The CZMA provides the backbone upon which coastal and marine management in the US functions, but in many ways it is a highly culturally and politically contingent creation. The CZMA mandates a very decentralized, participatory, and ideally non-hierarchical approach to coastal management that is highly consonant with American, but not necessarily Korean, cultural and political ideals.

Perhaps this Korean author sensed that the CZMA was culturally and politically unsuitable and decided to focus on the more technical pieces of U.S. coastal and marine regulation? If so what does that say about the West's traditional approach of promoting CZMA-like programs in developing countries that undoubtedly have different cultural and political backgrounds?

It will take more research to see if this is a trend in the Korean coastal and marine management literature.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I love old men.

This guy is 29 with a 73 year old father. He just "twitters" some of his father's funnier remarks.
I can sympathize. I am 27 with an 83 year old father, though my father doesn't have nearly as bad of a "potty mouth."


Friday, October 9, 2009

Coastal Managers of the World Unite!

I'm relatively new to blogging but have really been impressed with its ability to connect people to have constructive conversations. Particularly in the academic world where we have previously been forced into having snails-paced conversations through books, journals, and conferences, this is extremely useful.

Which makes me all the more disappointed that people involved in coastal management are not blogging more.

The general development community has a great set of vibrant blogs by people who are intimately involved in that world. If you want a good list of some of them just stop by my blog at (shameless promotion) and take a look at my "blogroll." I particularly recommend Bill Easterly's (author of White Man's Burden) blog and the "wrongingrights" blog. Great ideas at these blogs are exchanged rapidly and effectively. However they currently tend to be dominated by economists. Where is everybody else?, although a forum (amongst other things) and not a blog, is an exception to this rule and has managed to draw together a great group of people interested in coastal and marine issues in Southern Africa who regularly have insightful conversations and exchange valuable information.

Lets do more of this and make the "Integrated" in Integrated Coastal Management more of a reality.

Also if anyone does know of other great forums or blogs related to Coastal Management, please do share!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Will the cheerleaders please sit down?

Every academic field has its cheerleaders, its innovators, and...everybody else. The cheerleaders make me tired. In my particular field, Coastal Management in developing world contexts, the cheerleaders incessantly cry for more community involvement, "capacity building," and empowerment. Their greatest enemies are the usual greedy corporations and power-hungry politicians. Most recently I heard these two groups called a "nexus" which to me sounds suspiciously similar to "axis." I thought (hoped) we were finished with those.

Its not so much that I disagree with this analysis. Corporations are greedy. Politicians are power-hungry. And local communities must be meaningfully involved in managing their resources. My problem is that everybody already knows these things and harping on them hasn't made much difference.

Can we please change the conversation, think up some new ideas or approach the challenges of coastal management from a different angle?

Here is one suggestion, sufficiently provocative, but (I think) worth at least five minutes of consideration. What if we were open to the possibility that a sustainable coastal management program might not require the development of strong democratic principles?


Monday, October 5, 2009

Great read about an apparently fictitious Darfur representative

The creators of Abu Sharati are some sophisticated, twisted, people.

Great work compliments of wronging rights.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Communalism, the Natural Way?

The more time I spend outside of the United States the more I realize that communal societies, defined as societies where the scope of individual activity is normatively seen to be subordinate to, and legitimately curtailed by, the interests of whatever group that individual belongs to, are the norm in the world. Normative individualism is, as far as I can tell, found only in the United States and to considerably lesser extents in most other Western nations. Thirty years ago we might have been able to say that modern economies demanded such individualistic norms. But with the rise of many Asian economies whose societies remain strongly communally orientated, that argument can certainly no longer be even tentatively made.

So if this strange individualism was not responsible/necessary for, or did not develop because of, the West's 200 or so years of modernization, where did it come from?

And related to that question, if a society's ability to have a modern economy is not coupled to its adopting individualistic norms, is the reverse true? I.e. were/are there any cases of earlier, or simply less economically advanced societies, that were/are also normatively individualistic?