On finding science in the most unusual places

There was an Anti-Vax march in Sydney over the weekend. A family friend on Facebook spoke at the rally and shared the video in a post:

Notice what he emphasizes: experimental vaccines, a rushed regulatory process.

Then, from a recording of his speech:

“I challenge Prime Minister Scott Morrison to prove to the world that I am – being over 70 – vulnerable. I’m not vulnerable! I look after myself!”

“Many of the people I talk to tell me I don’t believe in science. That is rubbish. I am an absolute stalwart for science. I love science. I just don’t love scientists. I trust science, I trust it, I just don’t trust many scientists.”

He never explains how he can trust science, but not those who produce it, nor where he finds all the science he allegedly loves. Someone in the crowd clarified matters by yelling “fuck science.”

It is easy to feel demoralized listening to him. Thousands of people in one of the wealthiest, most educated countries on earth came to hear him speak. To overturn two hundred years of medical research, he came armed with sayings from Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson – presumably not realizing Jefferson was an untrustworthy scientist.

Yet, this man, a man with no interest in any science which contradicts him, still finds it necessary to speak the language of scientists; he might profane the vocabulary, but he uses it nonetheless. We are spared references to god, scriptural revelation, or prophecy, and get instead proof, process, and rushed experiments – regardless of how disingenuously they are meant. The Scientific Revolution has come so far that even its opponents are forced to use its vocabulary, and accept its process, even if only in lip service. Our species’ long battle against the forces of ignorance and darkness is far from over, but at least we have them playing by our rules.

Still, there is a legacy he shares with his pre-scientific forefathers: the absence of doubt. Where the greatest minds of the human race are unsure, this man is convicted. Convicted with the kind of arrogance only faith can provide.

A similar point I made several months ago.

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Merry Christmas at the Federal Reserve

The US Federal Reserve held their December FOMC meeting yesterday. They voted unanimously to continue the current accommmodative stance, keeping interest rates at zero and asset purchases at $120 billion a month.

The decision is unsurprising given the impact of Covid in the US, and the ongoing fight in Congress over more fiscal stimulus.

The FOMC meets eight times a year, but every second meeting they release a Summary of Economic Projections. Each member of the committee forecasts the path of GDP, unemployment, and inflation and they are aggregated. The public gets to see the median, central tendency, and range, but not the projections of individual members.

The figures reveal the diversity of opinion on the FOMC, especially when it comes to the path of unemployment. Since September, forecasts have improved, but there is still quite a gap between the optimists and pessimists. Of particular interest is the longer run estimate, which likely reflects participant’s views on the “natural rate of unemployment.”


Where the FOMC thinks the “natural rate” is matters because, up until this year, the Fed would tighten policy preemptively when unemployment neared the “natural rate.” If the estimate was wrong, and there was still slack, the effect would be to unnecessarily throw people out of work.

The experience after 2015, where unemployment dropped below estimates of the natural rate (at that time, ~5%), down to the unprecedented level of 3%, without stoking any inflation, led the Fed to change tact. Under the Fed’s new strategy, policy will not be tightened preemptively, it will instead wait for inflation to pick up sustainably.

Still, estimates of the “natural rate” continue to be an important guide for central bankers around the world. They have real consequences for the stance of monetary and fiscal policy, and are important to keep track of.