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End This Depression Now!
End This Depression Now!
by Paul Krugman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Krugman hits the nail again, 18 Jun. 2012
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About a year ago students (I think at Hamilton College, New York) did an informal survey of the predictions made by various media "pundits" (in the USA). They checked whether or not those pundit predictions actually came to pass. The predictions were mainly about economic and political matters and most of them turned out to be worse than you would expect to get by selecting some option with a pin (and your eyes shut). A few were better than chance and the best of the bunch was Paul Krugman. It is as well to remember that when we read the disdainful dismissal of his views which inevitably come from those on the political right - always delivered with an air of intellectual superiority - and without the aid of anything remotely resembling an intellect.

Krugman's style is informal and breezy which I thought quite entertaining and appropriate. I also found his argument and the evidence he offers in support, persuasive. It is not a difficult argument to understand and will come as no surprise to anyone who has been reading his column in the New York Times. He is perhaps a little over assertive and confident, but considering the opposition he faces from those who have total confidence and no evidence at all, and the ignorant criticism he has been subjected to over the years, his pugnacious attitude is understandable. My only serious criticism is that he gives only a one sentence reference to climate change (and related problems of population increase and resource exhaustion).

"Tribal allegiance should have no more to do with your views about macroeconomics than, say, your views on evolution or climate change ... hmm, maybe I'd better stop right there."

But climate change surely has a bearing on the argument about the policy we should adopt. It is not an issue which can be safely be dealt with later. An attempt to get back on to the path of (indiscriminate) growth is extremely dangerous. It also makes the case for government intervention more urgent. In the second world war, the design of the Spitfire was initially a private commercial venture, but when we needed Spitfires in large numbers, we did not hand money to the banks in the rather vague hope that some private commercial organisation might think there was a profit to be made in mass Spitfire construction. We just did it. And we need green energy, a low carbon infrastructure and good education now with much the same urgency.

The only economist I know about who has actually talked about the need to take climate change into account is Tim Jackson ("Prosperity without Growth").
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2012 4:48 PM BST


The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone
The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone
by Richard Wilkinson
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A Cracker, 8 Aug. 2010
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Wow! A cracker of a book! I have, for a long time, felt that inequality was both morally wrong and harmful to the quality of life for all of us. With this book, Wilkinson and Pickett have done us all a great service by bringing together the results of their own and other people's research which shows that this is more than a feeling - it is a conclusion which is unavoidable for anyone who values evidence rather than self-interested opinion.
It is possible to quibble with some of the statistics. For example, where we are dealing with opinions, say to investigate aggression by asking a question like - Do you think you would do better than average in a fist fight, it is not clear that the distribution of the data is "normal" in the strict sense used by statisticians. That is an assumption, however, which is made by the standard calculation of regression (used by the authors). But even if they had used a safer form of analysis for those instances where it would be appropriate (like the Kendal Rank Correlation Test), I am sure the same or very similar results would have emerged.
You have to read this book to the end - every word. Some of its critics have clearly not done that, for the quibbles they have raised (in this list of reader criticisms for example) are answered fully in the later chapters.
My only reservation is that Wilkinson and Pickett have not dealt very directly with my own main reasons for hating inequality - (1) the distortion of the supply system which it causes (e.g. building houses for the rich is much more profitable than building them for the poor), (2) the greater access to political power for the rich which it enables (buy a peerage or make donations which ensure a lucrative contract) and (3) and the ability of the super-rich to filter, edit and distort the information we all receive through the news media (Fox News).
Read this book. Please read it. And if you do feel, in the interests of balance and open-mindedness, that you do need to read that other book (The Spirit Level Delusion, by Snowdon) then please also read the Equality Trust Website where you will see that Snowdon's objections have been comprehensively demolished.


Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle
Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle
by Ian Sample
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 4 July 2010
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This book tells the tale of advanced research in particle physics over the last hundred years and a little bit more. It is clear, entertaining and quite a quick read. Briefly it delves into the advances made by James Clerk Maxwell, Einstein and other famous scientists and then provides us with a breathless whistle-stop tour of the personalities involved more recently - the collaborations, the friendships, the arguments and the rivalries, in the build up to the construction, dramatic accidents and eventual operation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) by the CERN organisation near Geneva.
The account gives indications that it was written in a great hurry. Perhaps that is inevitable. Although the story is perhaps a little premature because the machine has not been run yet at full power and the discovery that everyone in the field is waiting for has not yet been made (or discounted), the story is nevertheless "HOT" because of the intense media speculation which has surrounded it. No doubt, if that much sought the discovery (of the Higgs Boson) is made in the next few years (or is not made) Sample will give us a second addition with an addendum to bring the tale up to date.
In his haste to rush us through the list of participants, Sample includes a number of anecdotal snippets - the colour of a scientist's car, where another spent a wet camping holiday, yet another's taste in clothing. These snippets are thrown in abruptly and give the narrative a curiously disjointed feel. More controlled is his account of the political decisions which dictated the way the USA and the co-operative European efforts leap-frogged each other in a race to be the first to make these prestigious discoveries. He also explains well how the focus of the research, as it was presented to the decision makers, was narrowed and oversimplified for the press, and became lumbered with that name "The God Particle" to the distaste of most of the scientists involved.
In a very interesting chapter Sample describes the various doom-laden prophecies concerning the possible creation of Earth-eating black holes, strangelets which might alter the structure of the universe and so on. I was not only interested but comforted to know that the scientists took these concerns seriously, examined them all (including some I had never been aware of) and discounted them all for what seemed to me to be very sound reasons.
I bought the book for two reasons. I read an article in the Guardian by Ian Sample (he is the
Guardian's science correspondent) which mentioned the book. Intrigued, I wanted to see if he had explained the technicalities of particle research in a way that I could understand. In the article he also discussed the issue of "hidden worlds. I have a particular interest in that topic so I want to hear more. I was disappointed on both counts. He has made a brave effort to explain the inexplicable but he has not really succeeded - and I suppose that is inevitable. This is a topic so deeply immersed in complicated mathematics that is virtually impenetrable to all non-mathematicians (and that group, I suspect, includes Ian sample himself). The analogies he uses in an attempt to explain things, sound to me as though they are being passed on from the horse's mount, directly to us, without much alteration and without any added comprehension.
On the issue of "hidden worlds" and the related topic of "reality" he does briefly mention a discussion between a very young Peter Higgs and an equally young friend, on how real are the mental models we develop based on our perceptions. Sample, however, does not expand. He returns to the topic only (and again briefly) in the final chapter. I wanted to know what Peter Higgs currently thinks about the issue. That is something I think non-mathematicians can understand and about which they can make a contribution. In other branches of science it is common and convenient to regard the mental world of our theories and the external reality we observe with our eyes and ears etc. as being two distinct things. But in the field of particle physics and quantum mechanics, the two overlap to such an extent that we should be prepared to sit back a little and think again about what we really mean when we say the something "exists". In a book of my own (Reasoning Beyond Reason) I postulated the "existence" (note the cautionary quotation marks) of two extra forces rather like gravity in classical Newtonian Theory. These two forces are equal and opposite. One pulls and the other pushes and they have equal strength. So even although both could be very much stronger than the gravity we know about, the effects they have cancel each other out and so there is no way whatever, they we could ever detect their presence. In what sense of the word, therefore, is it appropriate to talk about the "existence" or even the "possible existence" of these forces? When Sample (and I presume the physicists he spoke to) talk about particles "popping in an out of existence" I am left wondering if the meaning of the word "existence" is being stretched beyond its elastic limit. What exactly is the difference between non-existence and a form of existence which can never ever be detected in anyway whatsoever?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2010 4:29 PM GMT


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