Leyendo - Reading...

Una serie de acotaciones al margen a medida que voy leyendo algunos libros... A series of annotations whilst reading interesting books... A collection of notes on books about science, SciFi, history, others topics... Una colección de notas sobre libros de ciencia, ciencia-ficción, historia, otros...

22 June 2013

More on hoaxes

Nice review of [Bad Astronomy on Tech Thoughts](http://www.techthoughts.net/2013/06/18/review-bad-astronomy/). I liked the following:

"... collapsing the arguments of moon landing deniers requires little scientific acumen or data whatsoever. They might try the following on for size:

1. Experts in the field say we voyaged to the moon, and it’s usually a good idea to defer to experts on matters in which you are, in fact, not one.

2. Global conspiracy theories are probably infeasible.

3. If the Soviet Union had the slightest inkling of imposture, they would have trumpeted it from the rooftops to the stars.

4. Photographic chicanery of the type required to spoof a moon landing did not exist"

Need more critical thinking, less idiocy

26 April 2013

Moon Landing Hoax, or when you are surprise by it

So you are giving a presentation on Yuri Gagarin, the Space Race and the Cold War, and of course you have to go to the point that at the end the USA won it because they were the first to put a man in the Moon. And you get the questions:
* Do you believe that the Americans landed in the Moon?
* I think that everything was staged in a Hollywood set, don't you?
* It was fake, wasn't it?
Put this clear and straight: rejecting or getting into the conspiracy is rejecting good science (in this case rejecting the Moon Landing).
I'm usually stopped in my next thoughts with this type of questions. Basically for me is like someone that ask me do you believe the Earth is round? we know it is flat, and I overflow with different thoughts. some very disrepectful, others of totally atonishent, and stunned on how to answer the obvious. [the Earth is not round but kind of an spheroid to be precisely annal]

How to answer in real time?

To be honest no idea. I'm not good for sharp, incisive, quick and on the spot answers. But I'm good at preparing scenarios and work then on that.
One good advice in those situations is to assume that most people do not care about Space Exploration, but heard about the Moon Hoax (today with Internet is very easy to get into this kind of crap) and they are trying to make a conversation funny at the expense of you. You can bet that few people are hard core conspirationists or deniers. At least is a good thought for me in order not to boil and just explode in a torrent of arguments.
Answer directly and honestly to the questions done:
  • No, I do not believe. I know by facts that they landed in the Moon
  • No, I do not think so. It will be a horrible expensive movie, and there is no way of keeping actors silent about it
  • No, it wasn't fake
Ask some rethorical questions:
  • Malta temples, Egypt Pyramids, the Great Chinese Wall, Mayan Piramids, Machu Pichu, who do you think have built them?
  • If they are true conspirationists they will answer that Aliens, the Heeches, or some kinda-Prometheus extraterrestrials did them. And I have no more tips on how to deal with them in real time. Rest of the blog is not for confronting this type of people. Sorry.
  • If they shrug, or answer of course humans and we all agree that the Homo Sapiens have been the culprits of those amazing structures. And also that Homo is incredibly resourceful, shows a lot of ingenuity and have built and builds surprising stuff (add Suez and Panama channel to the list) against all odds (Malta temples), you can continue reading
  • Why do you deny the creativity and ingenuity to put people on the Moon, but accept the others?
Setting the boundaries for a more rational conversation, then you can ask what specifically have read or watch, or specifcally what makes them think the landing was a hoax.
Usually what follows is a rough memory of something they had read like the flag is moving in the pictures (or more related to the pictures, if someone picked on some more deep argument -rare- maybe they will point that there are grades of shadows and with no atmospherem no difraction, so no grades of shadow. Most of the arguments that can put you in an akward situation (basically you have no idea and the objection looks reasonable) follow a pattern of God in the Gaps, or more appropiatte, Gaps in your Knowledge (and in the proto-denier in front of you). Most are frankly weird and totally illogic (like the movie thing) that argument against that is a waste of time: just go back, think carefully and rationally and come back. If not Death Star is real and in a galaxy far far away Yoda is awaiting you.
All of the conspirationist's arguments have been debunked and I will only point to this excellent article by Phil Plait in Bad Astronomy: Fox TV and the Apollo Moon Hoax. Just read it and be ready to calmly debunk your proto-denier that she/he is just bored and seeing the opportunity of making some hotly debated at your expense.

Taking the attack not seriously

The Moon Landing Hoax conspiracy is ... nonsense, so it is good to make some ironic, fun of, and intelligently mock it. Dean Burnett has a very good article (and serious when you read 2nd time): The moon landings were faked (and other science confessions).

"Yes, the moon landings were faked. You can take my word on this, I'm a scientist. A scientist who wasn't even born at the time and who has no official connection to space travel or any space-based discipline, but you know us scientists, we're all in on it together"

"...the whole moon landing saga was just realistic CGI. That's right, all the footage you've seen of the supposed moon landing is entirely computer animated. The USA had access to computer technology decades ahead of what was normal in the 1960s in order to do this..."

"...so now that I've let the cat out of the bag with regards to the moon landings, it's only a matter of time before the true extent of the deceptions carried out by the scientific community come to light. So, in the interests of transparency, here are some other conspiracies and outright lies that science has been feeding people..."

"Although rational types have been decrying antivaxxers for years, unfortunately they are correct. Vaccinations are unnecessary; they're a cover for the true nature of disease. It was discovered long ago that all diseases were actually spread by the Dodo. Upon this realisation, scientists decided to initiate a brutal extermination campaign, which lead to their apparent extinction. However, racked by guilt over their actions, the science community concocted the whole vaccine story to explain why people weren't getting so sick anymore, and have persevered with it to this day."

"The theory of relativity is, as many have guessed, made up. It doesn't make any sense when you think about it, time slowing down as you go faster? Gaining mass as you approach light speed? It's all based on an incident Einstein experienced when on a particularly long train journey where his watch was broken and he went to the buffet car a few too many times."

"THE WORLD IS ROUND = It isn't I'm afraid. It's flat. But it's not static, the land is constantly moving across it like a supermarket conveyer belt. Hence we get night and day, night is when the belt is on the underside of the Earth."

Enjoy it!

Why?

I asked myself this questions many times. People regards basic facts as lies and create a increasingly unattainable position disguised as (conspirative) "theory". I didn't read it, but Michael Shermer's book Why People Believe Weird Things maybe have some very good insights into this.
Also a shorter paper by the UWA Cognitive Science Laboratories: NASA faked the moon landing-therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science is a great source for start wondering about this phenomenon.

24 April 2013

Remembering Yuri Gagarin and The Space Race

Last week was April 12th, and in that day but in the year 1961 Yuri Gagarin was the first man in Space onboard the Vostok 1. That prompted some people to create a celebration around the World: Yuri's Night

I tried my wife the day before to through a party at our house and take the opportunity to dine with friends. She retorted no way a Nerd dinner, but why not offer to give a presentation about Yuri Gagarin in the school of our daughters? I accepted and needed some time to research again, collect information and remember my old memories about the Space Race

Yuri Gagarin and the Space Race

The result are 2 presentations. One oriented to kids from 6-7 years old to 11-12; and another for a more older audience. For the former using the figure of Yuri Gagarin as a hook to talk about astronauts, how they go to space, the challenge of living there, and finalising with Carl Sagan's message A Pale Blue Dot. The latter stressing more about the Space Race and the Cold War.

Tired of MS PowerPoint and the dry lineal logic of putting slides in one dimension, I decided to give Prezi a new try.

Yuri Gagarin

In honor of Yuri Gagarin and all the astronauts (and cosmonauts) that came after him:

  • Remembering him
  • Remembering his flight
  • After that it is important to get into some facts: how do you go to Space (rockets)?
  • and where you can survive (capsules)
  • we need all these technology because Space is or has:
  • starting from Yuri Gagarin all women and men in Space realized that our planet is a tiny capsule that we must protect. It is the only place that we can live so far. This fantastic composition of our planet as seen from the International Space Station, ISS, is super, Wow and also gives you a clear view of our unique and only true home in space
  • and finishing with Carl Sagan's message A Pale Blue Dot. Started as a bitter race between the 2 superpowers of that time, but ended in collaboration and providing a visual view of our fragile planet.
And here Yuri Gagarin 52th Anniversary (of the flight, of course)




Links to more info and things left out

In any presentation better to be short and to the point (Yuri's First Man in Space, Flying into Space, Our Unique only home; so always I'm prunning a lot of information. Here a short list of some nice videos and additional information that didn't make into the final presentation:

The Space Race

The second presentation is an extension of the first one. Using the same template and basic flow structure but stressing how the Space Race was a collateral effect of the Cold War:



A new section on how the rocket technology was developed. At least naming 4 key scientists and engineers:
  1. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, he is considered one of the pioneers in rocket science, and he developed the theory that helped to put rockets in space. Born Russian and died as Soviet;
  2. Robert H. Goddard, who is credited with creating and building the first liquid-fueled propeled rocket. US citizen, physics and inventor, he wrote several theory papers on space travel and develop and invented key technologies (three-axis control, thrusters, gyroscopes, and he built liquid-fueled rockets);
  3. Wernher V.Braun, leading engineer for the development of rocket technology in Germany (see the entry of Hermann Oberth, another founder father of astronautics and rocketry, not mentioned in my Prezi, but very important)). Worked in the infamous V1 and V2. The V2 rocket is the template for both USA and URSS rockets after the WWII
  4. Sergei Korolev was the Chief Designer for the URSS Space Program. With Valentin Glushko who designed the engines for the rockets are both pivotal to the URSS Space Program development, keys to the early and first successes in the Space Race. The R7 rocket, based on the V2 learnings, and its continuous evolution is one of the most capable and reusable rocket still used today), deploying payloads into space, like Progress capsule) and Soyuz
There was a funny and denialist article on the New York Times in January 13th 1920, arguing that Goddard's ideas to reach space were unrealistic and incredible it attacked him on not knowing Newton's Laws of Motion! In 1969 after Neil Amstrong landed in the Moon the NYT retracted with a simple paragraph saying: Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th Century and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere. The Times regrets the error
Some messages from this section:
  1. Need the basics: both in Physics and Engineering
  2. There is a lot of technical ingenuity and trying and trying and trying again
  3. Most of the pioneers they were on this because they have some philosophical question to answer, or they liked to think about daring things, and basically just fun solving a puzzle
  4. But you need big budgets to develop some technologies (or most of them) and one reason why societies engage in huge expenditures are:
    • They are trying to kick some ass of another society (usually under the lame excuse that we have to defend ourselves)
    • Some weird, but powerful and agregating belief, usually under the excuse of some religion, and well managed by some organized church
    • Defending the honor or doing what it is Right also is used
      • and the pure fun is gone
After the end of the WWII is clear the declining of the European colonist powers, and the emergence of a bi polar world run by the US and the URSS. Spectacular facts that marked what was coming were the 2 atomic bombs ever blasted on a real war scenario, let's hope it will never happen again; the Yalta conference where the World was divided; and the strategic bombing developed and refined by the US during the war.

Arguably some can say that having air superiority is not a necessary condition to win a war, but no one can argue that not having air superiority puts your side in the looser side, or at least the side that will suffer the most terrible consequences. At the end of the WWII USA has showed that they have air superiority, and were able to carry deep missions in enemy territory, and deploy atomic warheads. The last not a marketing bluff. The URSS was clearly behind in that capability and after Yalta a offensive/defensive gap was in favour of the US.

Clearly the V2 rockets didn't help Germany in their effort, but looking beside the terror, both countries were able to understand the capability and potential of using rockets to deploy atomic warheads deep into enemy territory: quicker than planes, technically almost un-stoppable, and cheaper to fly and maintain than huge air forces.

The Space Race is a direct son of the Cold War.

The Cold War can be describe as a Red Queen Effect: any move from one adversary is matched by the other in a continuous race, at least technically. A game strategy was defined: MAD, clearly a game devised to minimize the risk of total atomic annihilation.

The Space Race technically was advancing on the same direction and similar objectives, but each side had its own flavour on how to run it:
  • The US choosed the show business, astronauts presented like american football players, a new kind of heroes, everything live and on TV, the margin for error nil, it cannot risk killing an hero in front of the cameras, management centralized with the creation of NASA in 1958 but with an open approach and relying on different actors and contractors, inclusive of all the participants in the project (I need to include this reference to a paper on early Space Exploration: Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science] by Homer Edward Newell. I didn't read it but it covers a lot of topics how the US Space Program was created and managed, and much more)
  • The URSS approach is a mirror of the US: close, secrecy, one coordination, hierarchichal in both management and economic development. Cosmonauts like in the US national heroes (what else? Those women and men just have plain courage, my kudos for all them)
  • The URSS was able to score the first Firsts with a combination of great technically ingenuity and fantastic engineers, and having some advantage in knowing much more of the moves of the US;
  • Yuri Gagarin first flight was pushed ahead because they knew that the US was close to send one man in Space. They risked Yuri's life (50/50 chance) knowing that it the flight failed even killing Yuri, they will be able to cover it;
  • That cover up and secrecy was kept until the collapse of the URSS
There are some great videos (recreations) from the BBC: Space Race.

However the URSS kicked in first, by mid 1960's the US started getting the advantage. But the death of Sergei Korolev in 1966 severily impact the continuation of the URSS program to reach the Moon. The N1 rocket, the most massive rocket ever built failed in the only 4 attemps (starting in early 1969 and the last launch in late 1972. In 1974 the N1 program is cancelled and the URSS accepted that they will not send a cosmonaut to the Moon.

The NASA engaged in a step by step approach, and after the testing of several procedures and concepts during Mercury and Gemini, the Apollo missions run from Apollo 7 to Apollo 17.

The Apollo 11 mission is the landmark: First Man in the Moon. Sadly after that and with a clear confirmation that the URSS abandoned the goal, the enthusiasm falls quickly. Several Apollo missions to the Moon are scrapped after 1972. After 41 years no astronaut has ever returned to the Moon. And there are no plans for NASA going in a mid future.

We can say that the end of the race is the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. Still the Cold War is racing but at least this is a milestone for future collaboration that ended in 1998 with the first modules of the ISS in Space, a joint effort that since 2000 has been tripulated until today.

13 November 2012

A good summary of Space Missions

Planetary’s Blog is saving me a lot of time on researching What's Up in the Solar System in October 2012.

The map or chart showing all the missions and locations on the Solar System is particularly nice.

And the Voyager 1 and 2 are still listed! Didn’t now there is a twitter account to follow them!

But a good coverage of the missions from Mercury to Saturn and asteroids and comets.

28 October 2012

Bottom up versus Top Down Logic

Listening to the SGU # 373 I reached the part of the Science of Fiction. This episode was live at DragonCon 2012. And here the 3 Science of Fiction news Items:

  1. Scientists have discovered Western Scrub Jays performing a funeral-like behavior when they discover one of their members has died;
  2. A recent study finds that adults are more likely to accept a supernatural explanation than children;
  3. Researchers find that the shape of the glass affects how drunk alcohol-drinkers become

And Stephen Novella was able to wipe out his fellow skeptics but a little bit more than half the audience got it right. Listening to the podcast very late I was able to guess correctly, or at least got one right! Your guess?

Fiction is number #3, and all the panellists got it wrong, maybe because they are American so the 3rd did a lot of sense. And ALL chosen number #2 as Fiction. And I was sure that this one was Science all the time. So first some more research on the News Item and then why I think it is correct.

The SGU website points to the UPI website for the News Item:

“The findings show supernatural explanations for topics of core concern to humans are pervasive across cultures," Legare said in a statement. "If anything, in both industrialized and developing countries, supernatural explanations are frequently endorsed more often among adults than younger children.”, UPI

So I did some more research and tried to find the source, and the University of Texas, where Legare is from, has a much deeper article on the topic:

“Reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age, according to a new psychology study from The University of Texas at Austin” (Texas)

““As children assimilate cultural concepts into their intuitive belief systems — from God to atoms to evolution — they engage in coexistence thinking,” said Cristine Legare, assistant professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “When they merge supernatural and scientific explanations, they integrate them in a variety of predictable and universal ways.”” (Texas)

““The findings show supernatural explanations for topics of core concern to humans are pervasive across cultures,” Legare said. “If anything, in both industrialized and developing countries, supernatural explanations are frequently endorsed more often among adults than younger children.”” (Texas)

““The standard assumption that scientific and religious explanations compete should be re-evaluated in light of substantial psychological evidence,” Legare said. “The data, which spans diverse cultural contexts across the lifespan, shows supernatural reasoning is not necessarily replaced with scientific explanations following gains in knowledge, education or technology.”” (Texas)

I was able to find where the article is published but you have to be part of the club to have access to it. So I couldn’t read the source.

But Why I think it is correct?

This is the usual statistic of one and not very scientific, but if happen that you have kids or you are around kids and observe them you will find that kids have a very straightforward logic that they apply to every day things and to think about the Universe (Why? Why? Why?).

I will go with examples that you cannot generalize but if you have been carefully listening to your kids and observe others you will see this pattern:

  • kids have to figure out cause and effect quickly. This matters: If I do A, the effect B will cause pain; basic survival;
  • kids figure out first physical things, or cause and effects that have no intentions: if the glass drops from the table, it will crash; if something is hot, I get burnt (figuring out what it is hot or not is more complex, but also they are very good at that from 4 and up);
  • also they can realize of intentions very quickly, but the intentions are again straightforward connections: if I cry I get food (or water, or a candy); if I cry all the time, I piss off the adults around me; if I kick the dog it will bite me (or bark at me and it is frightening – also figuring out attitudes frightening/friendly is very complex but they do right away)

With this logic machinery they start asking other questions:

  • Why are so many different animals around us?
  • Why do we die?
  • Why is there Winter/Summer?
  • Why do we stop growing?

For a particular example one kid asked me the last question, and carefully thinking on that I realized I didn’t have a good answer except: “This is the way it is” (remember this answer). In fact, I was thinking it was a very good question and I was trying to remember if there is some animal or plant that does not stop growing. And there are some, and there some ways that they never stop growing but… Other kid answered right away (5 years old): “Because if you do not stop growing you cannot get into a car, or a house”

The answer is great and of course wrong, but it shows this straightforward logic machinery in action. All living things grow, but somewhat they stop, and every creature has to be able to fit somewhere. This is what I call bottom up logic. Also the logic has its own beauty, because it can be tested, it does not assume a theological argument, and with some research you can come with some more rational answer like: “It is a capacity problem, based on available resources that are finite”. Technically are creatures that do not stop growing but they die, or they slow down their growth exponentially.

But this is a perfect logic machinery to keep intact. I think that it is screwed up for many reasons:

  • It is that way because I say so; the authoritarian argument;
  • Because I say so; again authoritarian;
  • Because God wanted it to be like that; a theological argument;
  • etc;

In any case all these logics are top down: you start with some non observable statement (“God”…) and then you follow from there. Anything that you elaborate from there will be by definition obtuse. And kids they have to learn this second logic machinery (more by memory rather than by reasoning) because peer pressure, social pressure, or I do not want my parents be mad at me (or something else I have no idea).

I still believe that both machineries keep working together. In a way you will use the 1st machine to figure out things that can kill you immediately: you can believe some witch pass to you HIV; but you know that jumping from a 10th floor is suicide, even if the same witch (or wizard, or priest or anyone) assures you a spell casted on you will save you. If you believe in the safe-landing-with-no-parachute spell, you have been totally brainwashed and of course your 1st machine has been disabled…

You rely more on the 2nd machine for things that the cause is not obvious or immediate (not using condoms will increase your chances of getting something nasty as HIV, but of course you do not believe that), or this argument (a.k.a. “belief”) is not something you care a lot about it (Hell for example).

References

For More Info:

  • Jessica Sinn, College of Liberal Arts, 512-471-2404;
  • Cristine Legare, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, 512-468-8238, legare@psy.utexas.edu

01 April 2012

Doom's Name: 2011 AG5

Asteroid 2011 AG5: a football-stadium-sized rock to watch carefully

It seems that Apophis will still hit the Earth in 2036 (by 49 million Km, pufff!). But there is another medium size kid in the block. Not a planet killer but big enough: asteroid 2011 AG5. Bad Astronomy has a good article in evaluating the options for start planning a mission to potentially change the orbit of the asteroid.

Before scaring anyone it is god to remember that NASA estimates very low the probability of an impact in a recently update: Asteroid 2011 AG5 - A Reality Check. Ranked "1" in the Torino Scale...

With something with so low probability to happen (crash into Earth) and only one agency from one country maybe considering it (NASA/US) I cannot see the people deciding where to expend the budget to invest some money on a close up mission and a potentially deflecting one.

But it would be nice just for 2 other things even if it is downgrade to Torino level "0":
  1. the scientific value of a mission like this
  2. it will be cool to follow the news of a mission to deflect an asteroid, even just for practice!
The 2nd option I think it's more important: if really we have to deflect an asteroid, I'm sure we will not do it correctly the first time, so some practice will come handy (and we can put some military-oriented minds on shooting at something useful for all mankind)


12 March 2012

Getting Closer to catch the Higgs

Maybe the most amazing hunting so far in Physics! But the final comment sounds very "futbolistico":

"Boost for Higgs from Tevatron data : Nature News & Comment: For the now-closed Tevatron, a demonstration of sensitivity to the Higgs can be seen as a kind of moral victory, says theorist Gordon Kane of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2011, researchers at Fermilab argued for an extension to the machine's run, on the grounds that they might be able to obtain evidence for the Higgs if they had more time, but their proposal was turned down by the US Department of Energy"

Ok, you did not make the goals, but morally won....

 Jokes apart, the search is fascinating. That some indication of the Higgs could be buried in the data of the Tevatron is cool. Taking in consideration the shutdown of the accelerator, and the suspension of the next generation accelerator by the US...

But it is for the LHC to find it. I hope so.

Started a book on particles (going back to my beloved physics) but yet not get a fully idea of what the article is talking about....

23 February 2012

Einstein got it right. Again! Neutrinos respect speed limit…

Ok – a long time not here. But it is good to go back with some interesting and funny (you can say that) news item. At the end neutrinos are encased within the Relativity Laws, they didn’t stunned scientists, but instead a faulty technical plug was the cause of very much excitement

Not final on this but 2 potential errors can put the neutrinos back into Eintein’s realm, from Nature’s reporting:

  • “the passage of time on the clocks between the arrival of the synchronizing signal has to be interpolated and OPERA now says this may not have been done correctly”
  • “there was a possible faulty connection between the GPS signal and the OPERA master clock”

Scientific American reports basically on the same. Amazing Einstein!

And complicated experimental science. 60 nanoseconds! And just a faulty connector! Audio engineers know this well, and one of my teachers in Engineering school always said “plug in two cables and you will create some sparks. Beware of connections!”

27 October 2011

Neutrinos stunned scientists…

A quick search on neutrinos faster speed will show a list of recently news about awesome results, if they are confirmed.

[interesting if you key in Google with ‘neutrinos fast… Google will suggest ‘neutrinos faster than light’, neutrinos faster than the speed of light’, ‘neutrinos faster light’, ‘neutrinos faster speed light’… seems a lot of people keyed in the same a lot, neutrinos are in fashion]

A friend of mine, physic by heart, study and profession, pointed to me to this more than strange results from the OPERA experiment.

Also enjoying my weekly Skeptic Guide to the Universe Podcast #327 I was updated on the recently developments and possible impact of this new in the mainstream media. Just tune for the podcast in the segment from 10:21 sec to 20:01 sec’s. I like in particular Bob saying “I do not want live in a Universe that Effect precedes Cause” (11:33 – 11:49 sec’s aprox).

They pointed to one reasonable explanation: “that the difference (60 nanoseconds! an statistical correlation from the result of 15K experiments!) can be explained if the clocks at the ending points were not synchronized correctly”. Or:

“The OPERA team timed the neutrinos using clocks at each location that were synchronized using GPS (Global Positioning System) signals from a single satellite. Contaldi's paper says the group's calculations do not take into account one aspect of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity: that slight differences in the force of gravity at the two sites would cause the clocks to tick at different rates” (see Faster-than-light neutrinos face time trial)

Like the Pioneer Anomaly the explanation will be complicated and hard to calculate (reality can be messy), but it will not overthrown Relativity Theory…

60 nanoseconds! Incredibly! So precise is the model!

16 July 2011

Getting the indexes right–Midiendo los índices correctamente

Statistics can have a bad reputation including for the lay person, but it is a field with incredible real life applications. You have to be very skilled to use it and very gifted to elaborated on it. But most important very carefully to read and interpret the results. Maybe the last statement is the most important for all of us, being key decision makers or voters.

Indexes or KPIs in the MBA jargon are important to have an idea where you are and what corrected measures to take. It is used for everything but everyday is taking more importance for defining and deciding which are the best policies, from school systems, health care reforms, or just guiding the economy of a country, last but not least important. The debate is always heated as in today US health care reform, and reading carefully the data is important in order to keep the debate reasonable and not fall in partisan views.

Comparison between health care cost and life expectancy – source National Geographic

This is why I was sorry reading about the meddling of the actual Argentinean government with the Inflation Index or Consumer Price Index (CPI): Lies and Argentine statistics with the subtitle of “Stalinist practices In Buenos Aires”.

“MOST Argentines reacted with a shrug when their government began doctoring its consumer-price index in 2007. Cooking the books cost holders of the country’s inflation-linked bonds at least $2.3 billion last year (…) They reckon that inflation is now running at about 25%. That is far above the 10% reported by INDEC, the government statistics agency, but less than the 30% wage increases public employees have received in recent years.”

“A presidential election looms in October and inflation, and the government’s denial of it, is perhaps the biggest threat to the prospect of President Cristina Fernández winning a second term. That may be why Guillermo Moreno, the thuggish commerce secretary, is moving to stamp out the unofficial, but widely trusted, price indices. To do so he has dusted off a decree, penalising misleading advertising, approved by a military dictatorship in 1983. In February he sent letters to 12 economists and consultants ordering them to reveal their methodology, on the grounds that erroneous figures could mislead consumers. Some of Mr Moreno’s targets refused; the rest were analysed by INDEC, which predictably found their methods flawed”

And going back to statistics and the power of big numbers I found an article in the Sciam.com titled Economists Find Faster, Cheaper Way to Measure Inflation.

“Even in the information age, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics still gathers much of its data the old-fashioned way. Workers make phone calls to find out what dentists charge for pulling teeth, and they visit stores to write down the prices of CDs and Russet potatoes. In the end, the data are accurate but take a month or so to compile and analyze.

To speed things up, Alberto Cavallo and Rigoberto Rigobon, economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, created the Billion Prices Project (bpp.mit.edu). Software indexes Web sites to track prices of more than five million goods from 70-plus countries and spits out inflation rates in real time”

The method behind the calculation is impressive and it yields on top of having a massive amount of prices (retail) today available on-line from a lot of countries (70).

At the moment of this writing they are collecting data and estimating the indexes, but worth checking regularly…