World Crisis Index

Intrade, the Ireland-based prediction market, has launched a World Crisis Index. This index is a sum of the prices of 8 current markets Intrade is making in the area of global crisis, including a markets on recessions and growth rates in industrialized countries, US unemployment rates, the possibility of new US military action, and other issues. This sum is then normalized and reported. The Intrade markets first came to my attention via an email from Robin Hanson, who is arguably the world’s leading expert in prediction markets. Intrade had a good deal of success in predicting the outcomes of the last election cycle.

I followed the market fluctuations in the electoral issues pretty closely last year, specifically through Intrade’s partnership with Rasmussen Reports. What was interesting to me was how well the markets predicted changes in press coverage, from positive to negative or more interestingly, from sparse to dense and vice versa.

BTU vs. BTU

Robert Rapier at the R-squared Energy Blog has written a very good analysis of how ethanol may be more efficient a transport fuel than gasoline, despite the fact that ethanol contains fewer BTUs per gallon than gasoline. The upshot of it is that because of ethanol’s incredibly high octane rating (over 100!), it is possible to run an engine on ethanol at a much higher compression ratio than one could with gasoline. This would allow you to extract more work from the ethanol than can be extracted from the gasoline.

(note: Robert works for Accoya, one of the most interesting green materials companies out there. I currently have a sample of their product and if I order from them for a project I’m working on, I’ll blog about it here.)

Science and medicine

Some time ago, at the suggestion of my good friend, Daniel Hornbaker, I read an interesting but poorly-argued book by Steve Salerno that detailed the fraudulence and predatory practices of the 8G$ self-help industry. Recently, Salerno published an article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed some of the fraudulent activities in the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) field. The disturbing part of the article for me was that despite continual failures to show any efficacy of CAM treatments, the NCCAM, a federally-funded part of the National Institutes of Health, is still being funded.

While I’m very interested in scientific investigations of the traditional pharmacopia, such as what the Bent Creek Institute is doing here in town – i.e. lots of extractions and chromatography – I’m concerned that mainstream emphasis on unscientific treatments will lead to a lot more deaths like this one.