notes in a shoebox

Quantum Forest

Category: policy Page 1 of 3

Why you shouldn’t entrust your pet to Glenstar Kennels

Travel is part of life and if you have pets, finding appropriate boarding for them is a must. This is my explanation for why you should not entrust your dog to Glenstar Kennels, in Canterbury, New Zealand.

At the end of 2016 I had work approval for a two-month trip overseas. Normally I would book accommodation for my dog at the SPCA boarding kennels (as when we had two-months repairs to our house following Christchurch’s earthquake). However, as this trip included Christmas/New Year, it was impossible to find a vacancy. I was happy to find a spot for my dog at Glenstar Kennels spanning the whole end of year period.

Back of the envelope look at school decile changes

Currently there is some discussion in New Zealand about the effect of the reclassification of schools in socioeconomic deciles. An interesting aspect of the funding system in New Zealand is that state and state-integrated schools with poorer families receive substantially more funding from the government than schools that receive students from richer families (see this page in the Ministry of Education’s website).

A couple of thoughts on biotech and food security

“What has {insert biotech here} done for food security?” This question starts at the wrong end of the problem, because food security is much larger than any biotechnology. I would suggest that governance, property rights and education are the fundamental issues for food security, followed by biotechnological options. For example, the best biotechnology is useless if one is trying to do agriculture in a war-ravaged country.

Once we have a relatively stable government and educated people can rely on property rights, the effects of different biotechnologies will be magnified and it will be possible to better assess them. I would say that matching the most appropriate technologies to the local environmental, economic and cultural conditions is a good sign of sustainable agriculture. I would also say that the broader the portfolio of biotechnology and agronomic practices the more likely a good match will be. That is, I would not a priori exclude any biotechnology from the table based on generic considerations.

Should I reject a manuscript because the analyses weren’t done using open source software?

“Should I reject a manuscript because the analyses weren’t done using open software?” I overheard a couple of young researchers discussing. Initially I thought it was a joke but, to my surprise, it was not funny at all.

There is an unsettling, underlying idea in that question: the value of a scientific work can be reduced to its computability. If I, the reader, cannot replicate the computation the work is of little, if any, value. Even further, my verification has to have no software cost involved, because if that is not the case we are limiting the possibility of computation to only those who can afford it. Therefore, the almost unavoidable conclusion is that we should force the use of open software in science.

Protectionism under another name

This morning Radio New Zealand covered a story (audio) where Tomatoes New Zealand (TNZ, the growers association) was asking the Government to introduce compulsory labeling for irradiated products (namely imported Australian tomatoes), stating that consumers deserve an informed choice (TNZ Press Release). Two points that I think merit attention:

  • Food irradiation is perfectly safe: it does not make food radioactive, it does not alter the nutritional value of food and reduces the presence (or completely eliminates) the presence of microorganisms that cause disease or pests (the latter being the reason for irradiation in this case).
  • The second point is that the call for labeling does not come from consumers (or an organization representing them) but from producers that face competition.

This situation reminded me of Milton Friedman talking about professional licenses The justification offered is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason is demonstrated by observing who lobbies. Who is doing the lobbying is very telling in this case, particularly because there is no real reason to induce fear on the consumer, except that irradiation sounds too close to radioactive, and therefore TNZ is hoping to steer consumers away from imported tomatoes. Given that TNZ is for informing the consumer they could label tomatoes with ‘many of the characteristics in this tomato are the product of mutations‘. Harmless but scary.

P.S. The media is now picking up the story. Shameful manipulation.
P.S.2 Give that TNZ is in favor of the right to know I want a list of all chemicals used in the production of New Zealand tomatoes, how good is their water management and the employment practices of tomato growers.

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