Tuesday, November 20, 2007

UK's families put on fraud alert

This BBC article reports that "two computer discs holding the personal details of all families in the UK with a child under 16 have gone missing. The Child Benefit data on them includes name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details of 25 million people."

This must be especially frightening to those who had provided the government with bank account information for direct deposit.

"Chancellor Alistair Darling said there was no evidence the data had gone to criminals - but urged people to monitor bank accounts 'for unusual activity'."

"The chancellor blamed mistakes by junior officials at HMRC [Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs], who he said had ignored security procedures when they sent information to the National Audit Office (NAO) for auditing... The package was not recorded or registered. It appears the data has failed to reach the addressee in the NAO."

It seems that some blame should also attach to those who made it possible for this vast trove of data to be compromised by "junior officials."

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Comments on "Devaluing Science."

A colleague pointed me to Jonathan H. Adler's review of Roger A. Pielke, Jr.'s book, The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, published in The New Alantis.

Here is my response:

Interesting, but written in such a way that I was often not sure whether I was arguing with flaws in Pielke's arguments, or with Adler's presentation of those arguments. (But not so uncertain that I'm going to invest in the book.)

The last paragraph of the review finally gets to the crux of the matter: the era when science and politics were separate is almost completely mythical. Science has always been politicized; all that has changed is that some aspects of public policy have become more "scientized."

Since 'twas ever thus, I'm not quite sure why P/A thinks that we/they/someone/scientists/politicians are "devaluing science," and I didn't see the evidence in the review. Maybe he means "not making science as valuable as it could be (but has never yet been) to society"?

The size of the ozone hole is a matter of fact, not of policy, as are its causes and consequences. The shrinking of the Arctic summer ice pack, Antarctic ice shelves, and Greenland ice sheet are matters of fact, not of policy, as are their causes and consequences. There are no Republican, or Democratic, or Libertarian, or Green policy positions that affect the measurement of their growth and shrinking.

A 20-meter rise in the level of the oceans will be a matter of fact, not policy. What was policy was the choice that allowing such a rise was preferable to effective restraints on coal and oil consumption.

Risks may be unknown (that is why they are risky), but that lack of knowledge does not change them from matters of fact to matters of policy, which is why we have insurance. Insurance premiums are the same, regardless of your politics or your public policy preferences (not to be confused with insurance policy choices).

“The basis for opposition for most of these folks has nothing to do with scientific uncertainty and everything to do with their valuation of the costs and benefits of taking action.” Just so. As someone observed in the New York Times yesterday, we seem to be completely unwilling to take actions that will benefit the larger group if they inconvenience us personally. They were talking about cellphones and cellphone jammers, but it could have been anything.

I'm surprised that P/A thinks that stealth issue advocates “are critically important and necessary in a functioning democracy.” They may be inevitable, but that does not make them necessary or useful. Hidden agendas benefit neither the scientific debate nor the policy debate.

But what honest person could be against having honest brokers?

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