John Irons's Blog


Economic News, Data and Analysis

Scientific American Reforms

Science & Technology at Scientific Okay, We Give Up — We feel so ashamed
Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody’s ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.
Get ready for a new Scientific American. No more discussions of how science should inform policy. If the government commits blindly to building an anti-ICBM defense system that can’t work as promised, that will waste tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars and imperil national security, you won’t hear about it from us. If studies suggest that the administration’s antipollution measures would actually increase the dangerous particulates that people breathe during the next two decades, that’s not our concern. No more discussions of how policies affect science either-so what if the budget for the National Science Foundation is slashed? This magazine will be dedicated purely to science, fair and balanced science, and not just the science that scientists say is science. And it will start on April Fools’ Day.

Filed under: Education

Economics Education

Steven Pinker voices support for economics education at all levels. I have to agree!

How to Get Inside a Student’s Head
by Steven Pinker

Finally, a better understanding of the mind can lead to setting new priorities as to what is taught. The goal of education should be to provide students with new cognitive tools for grasping the world. Observers from our best scientists to Jay Leno are appalled by the scientific illiteracy of typical Americans. This obliviousness leads people to squander their health on medical flimflam and to misunderstand the strengths and weaknesses of a market economy in their political choices.
The obvious solution is instruction at all levels in relatively new fields like economics, evolutionary biology and statistics. Yet most curriculums are set in stone, because no one wants to be the philistine who seems to be saying that it is unimportant to learn a foreign language or the classics. But there are only 24 hours in a day, and a decision to teach one subject is a decision not to teach another. The question is not whether trigonometry is important — it is — but whether it is more important than probability; not whether an educated person should know the classics, but whether it is more important to know the classics than elementary economics.
This is not just a question of “relevance” to everyday life; these fields are as rigorous and fundamental as those in traditional curriculums.

Filed under: Economics, Education, Teaching


Part of learning economics is learning how to effectively communicate ideas. Here’s an assignment from Bob Parks at Washington University St. Louis.
Be sure to look at #6 below.

Assignment 5 due Oct 31 and in class
Assignment 5 requires you to create a word document.
You will be required to submit:
1. a printed INCOLOR copy of the word document handed in inclass 10/31 and
2. mail the document to by Oct 31, 1 PM! (That is before class)
The word document will be two pages, must contain the following elements:
1. A header and footer
2. Three footnotes:
a) defining a word which you look up in Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary, accessible from the Encyclopedia Britannica link at (in our test example we looked up harbinger)
b) the reference for the text you copy
c) the reference for the image you copy.
3. Those footnotes must be linked to the a) word; b) end of the text that you copy; c) some place near the image you copy.
4. An image from which has umpteem gazillion graphs and some pretty maps Must be ecomomics.
5. An image of (part of) your desktop (so you must use SNAP32.exe or a similar program)
6. Some text from some page at The example below uses some text from which is no longer available. has gone the way of most economic sites and now charges. argmax does not, and economagic is licensed to the university.
7. At least one word (or more) of the text must have each letter with a different color. Hopefully you will learn how to do a simple macro to make a lot of your text have different colors.
8. Part of the text must be formatted in 2 columns!
9. At least two paragraphs must have a different fontand size and color than the rest.
10. There must be a table containing Economic data from formatted in a table.
11. The table must also have two calculations – that is the entries must be formulas.
Whew! That is a lot of work. You better start today!!!

Filed under: Education

Grade Inflation

Princeton mathematician Jordan Ellenberg has an article about why grade inflation isn’t so bad.
The analysis is a bit flawed in that it assumes that students can be ranked along a single dimension of “natural ability” ranging from “good” to “bad” across all classes over 4 years (with some random variation). But he does make some interesting points.
Aside: More mathematicians should write articles for a general audience.
Don’t Worry About Grade Inflation – Why it doesn’t matter that professors give out so many A’s. By Jordan Ellenberg

Filed under: Education,