Monthly Archives: June 2010

Toasts and Tributes: June 23, 2010

I’ve decided to add a new feature to the blog: Toasts and Tributes.

Every few weeks (or as often as I can manage)  I’ll toast one or more people who have demonstrated the courage to “do the right thing” even when it is not always popular.

This week’s recipients of this honour go to:

1) Missouri Governor Jay Nixon

Despite leading to possible increases in health insurance premiums, last week Nixon signed a bill requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of therapy – up to $40,000 per year to the age of 18 – for autistic children.   This should be sufficient to cover the cost of 20 hours of ABA therapy per week for a child, often considered the minimum amount necessary to achieve meaningful results.

Jay, not only are you doing the right thing from an ethical point of view, essentially giving autistic children a chance at a meaningful life, but you are also doing the right thing from a financial point of view as well.  Studies  (e.g., here) indicate that the total cost to society per autistic person due to lost productivity and the need for specialized services can be anywhere from $3-4 million over a lifetime.   Early intervention can reduce that cost considerably.  It has been shown that ABA therapy alone can reduce the cost by almost half  (Jacobsen et al, 1998; Jarbrink and Knapp, 2000). Continue reading

G20, Second Life, and Autism

Like most Canadians I was somewhat disturbed to learn recently that the security costs for the upcoming G20 summit in Toronto will exceed $1 billion. Given that it allegedly cost a mere $30 million to secure the London summit in April 2009 and $18 million to secure Pittsburgh last September, I would say that Canadian taxpayers are certainly entitled to question a security bill that is several orders of magnitude greater than that for previous, comparable events. Continue reading

Global temperatures: magnitudes and trends

One thing I often see in media reporting on climate change is confusion regarding the difference between the magnitude of temperatures for individual years over the past decade (expressed as anomalies) and the trend in temperatures over the past decade.

It is not uncommon, for example, for proponents of global warming to berate climate skeptics for stating that the world has experienced a modest cooling over the last 10 years.  After all, how can that be true when so many years of the last decade have been among the warmest this century? Doesn’t that imply that significant global warming is still occurring? Well, some people certainly think so. Continue reading

City of Lakes: Victim of Global Warming?

Last week the Vancouver Observer published an article  describing the impacts of climate change on various parts of Asia. The full article is available here.

Prominently featured in the article is a description of Udaipur, the so-called “City of Lakes”, located in the Rajasthan state of India. The author of the piece has the following to say about the current state of Udaipur and its lakes:

One telling example of the drought is occurring in Udaipur, a beautiful, historical city that lies amongst centuries-old man-made lakes created by various maharajas. Udaipur has been called the City of Lakes. It’s a misnomer now.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Octopussy, you’ll remember James Bond speeding across a gorgeous blue lake with a wedding cake palace in the background. That was Lake Pichola in Udaipur. Shockingly, the lake is now almost dry and has been for a few years. The rains don’t come anymore, and under the searing sun and growing population, the demand for water is too great.

About the Rajasthan state in general it is said:

Throughout Rajasthan, the state southwest of Delhi, water issues are at critical levels. It’s not just a recent phenomenon either – drought has ravaged the state for the past 10 years, withering crops, drying up wells and virtually roasting cattle before they are even butchered.

While mention is given to the role of population pressures on water supply in the region, it is clear from the article that the author is primarily attributing the decline of Udaipur’s lakes to anthropogenic global warming (the end of the article makes the link to CO2 explicit). Continue reading

Natural Climate Swings Have Significant Effect on Glaciers: Nature

There is an interesting article on glacial retreat at Nature.

The article discusses a recent study concluding that global warming’s contribution to shrinking glaciers has likely been overstated. The article implies that other factors, such as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), can account for a significant amount of observed glacial retreat.

See here for the full article.

Welcome to web-of-belief

My inaugural post!

First let me say that most challenging aspect of starting up a blog is not deciding on the content but rather trying to come up with a name — one that is not actively being used by other blogs, web sites, etc.   Believe me when I say that virtually every clever combination of words (and even many not-so-clever ones) are already in use in some venue or other.   Many thanks to those bloggers who took some of the best domain names and then proceeded to make a grand total of 2 blog entries over the span of 5 years!

In the end I wasn’t able to come up with a name that I was completely satisfied with and the one I did end up choosing, “Web of Belief”,  is actually already in use at “”, though that blog is apparently one of those that never made it off the ground, so I guess the name is mine now.   I imagine, also, that I will disappoint a great many people who are expecting this to be a blog devoted to philosophical ideas related to such people as Willard Quine.  It isn’t, sorry, though the topics discussed here may veer tangentially into that territory occasionally.

So what is my intention with the name, then?   Not much, to be honest.   It’s mostly there to sound nice.  However, I do imagine that quite a few of the posts on this blog will have to do with issues of knowledge and belief, e.g., what people believe about various claims of science and how these beliefs interrelate and also how the media (including web-based media) tend to influence those beliefs.   Thus the epistemological connotations of the name seem appropriate, to some extent.    But the word “web” could also be seen as having a double-meaning here (as in “world wide web”).   Ultimately, it’s just a name and honestly doesn’t mean too much.   People are free to ascribe any meaning they want to it.

In the end, this blog is intended as a forum for me to critically reflect on some of today’s important issues (e.g., climate change) and to hopefully spur intelligent discussion on these topics so that I (and others) can achieve a better understanding of them.  Along the way I imagine I will sometimes get philosophical (to the degree that I’m still capable of it). Sometimes I’ll simply  blog about seemingly unrelated topics that happen to be of interest to me (e.g., music, computers).

One thing to note.   Not everything I post here will be a formal essay.   If I limited myself to that sort of content, I would probably never write anything.  There just wouldn’t be enough time to make everything perfect enough.   Instead, in the interests of providing more content, I suspect that I will often make posts that are more like essay fragments; something still meaningful and logically coherent, but perhaps not a complete or thorough discussion of the topic at hand.   Hopefully these posts will still be of interest and can spur discussion.

Stay tuned.