It came to my attention that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) created a mailing list from the volunteer and donor information sheets provided to it by Socks for Japan (SFJ), and used the list on Tuesday to ask people to participate in a follow-up survey regarding participation in SFJ.
I did not authorize this.
Regarding the unauthorized use of our data, I contacted the Dean of Engineering, the head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department, and the research assistant who sent the survey.
It looks to me that the survey is well-intentioned, but it is nonetheless inappropriate to convert our donation logs to an in-house mailing list without permission. Our volunteers and donors were motivated by a desire to help the survivors of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. They did not sign up for emails from RPI. Had RPI asked me for permission to send a survey to SFJ’s people, I would have examined the survey, decided whether it was worth our time to participate, and, if so, sent a note in advance of the survey telling the SFJ organization why I thought it was a good idea for us to join the effort.
Please accept my apology for this breach of etiquette by RPI.
Below is my letter to the dean, department head, and research assistant, further explaining why we are especially sensitive to mistreatment by RPI. What should have been a cooperation that improved volunteer efforts to care for survivors of future disasters instead became a career-boosting endeavor by one of RPI’s professors.
[Dear Research Assistant,]
A donor to my Socks for Japan project (SFJ) asked me if your RPI survey sent Tuesday was real or not. In the future, please clear your follow-up efforts targeting my volunteers and donors with me in advance of contacting them. I want to see the questions you intend to ask and decide whether to authorize them or not. If I do authorize them, I will tell SFJ’s volunteers and donors that they’re on the way with my endorsement, rather than having them appear out of the blue and surprise people, and give the impression that SFJ and RPI are working together.
A little background will explain why.
I agreed to allow RPI Prof. Jose Holguin-Veras to study our donation data, and we took him to the areas of the disaster zone that proved most enlightening to him, judging by how he used them in his op-ed piece. He did not credit SFJ in his piece, which did not sit well with our team. He had previously disparaged our effort by pointing out common ways that similar volunteer efforts had gone wrong in the past and saying that ours would go wrong, too. He wrote to me that the “campaign is likely to do more harm than good.” After seeing that he’d been wrong, he should have publicly recanted or at least discussed the good results that he’d seen our team achieving. Instead, he pretended he’d never met us.
Unbeknownst to him, the SFJ team had already studied the previous mistakes that so worried him when he suggested we stop the project. We knew that many well-meaning people panic and think they’re helping by sending unneeded junk to shelters, where it accumulates and causes extra work for volunteers. We knew that it was a mistake to duplicate what the larger relief organizations were already doing. We knew that it was a mistake to ask already stretched groups to help us deliver our donated goods.
With these cautionary lessons in mind, we structured our effort to avoid such pitfalls. Once we were up and running in an organized manner and receiving requests for delivery from shelters, we allowed Prof. Holguin-Veras to piggyback on the network we created in order to study the heart of the disaster zone. We demonstrated that we had contacted stricken areas to find out who needed the one type of care package we distributed (socks and letters), and how we directly delivered the goods in a way that didn’t disturb other emergency efforts but boosted the spirits of survivors. Prof. Holguin-Veras observed this firsthand.
We thought he would share with the world what he had learned from us, namely that locally organized efforts can have a positive impact when run properly, because he expressed admiration during the day we spent together in our distribution van. Instead, he used our effort for his own self-promotion, crediting Japanese university colleagues rather than SFJ for the behind-the-scenes transportation that we coordinated for him. It felt to us that he did not want to admit to discovering an effort whose success called into question some of what he’d written on the subject during his career. Instead, he selectively reported from the disaster zone in a way that cast himself in a positive light as the intrepid on-the-ground researcher working with professors from Japanese universities boasting name recognition. A successful grassroots effort such as SFJ did not fit the picture he’d painted for academia over many years.
In the wake of this disappointing experience with Prof. Holguin-Veras, you can imagine that none of us is pleased to discover RPI using our organization’s data without requesting permission to do so. I did not sign up my list of volunteers and donors for a lifetime of follow-up to provide Prof. Holguin-Veras or others working alongside him with talking points for their next presentation. Our purpose at SFJ was to help the suffering people of northeastern Japan. We thought the professor shared this goal, and that by granting him access to our data and field work we could aid volunteers in future disasters, thereby amplifying the benefit.
Instead, we never received a word of support from Prof. Holguin-Veras, were not mentioned in his op-ed despite it having focused on where we took him in the disaster zone, and now find that RPI is asking our donors about how they heard of our organization and motivation to help us in a tone that implies we authorized it to do so. We did not!
I realize that you are not Prof. Holguin-Veras and that you probably knew nothing of this background when sending your survey to SFJ donors. In a way, however, this is even more disturbing as it appears that our data has become commonly available to researchers at RPI. I expressly forbid this.
You must request permission from me before proceeding with any future plans to contact SFJ donors and volunteers so I can clear how RPI intends to use the information we provided beyond the scope of the initial agreement. The database of volunteers and donors belongs to SFJ, not RPI.
Further, I request credit in follow-up reports RPI writes about our effort. It was not RPI nor Prof. Holguin-Veras who saw the need for socks and moral support; researched what works and what doesn’t; marketed to gather volunteers and donors from around the world; created an organization that was efficient enough to process 2,000 pairs of donated socks per day and deliver up to 12,000 in a single run; avoided common pitfalls of disaster assistance; and worked nearly full time for four months and part-time for a year to help people.
We developed valuable techniques that Prof. Holguin-Veras doubted from the get-go. He never publicly retracted his skepticism even after it was proved misplaced. If RPI now agrees that the SFJ project was effective enough to warrant further study, we deserve credit for this rather than remaining nameless so that it appears the methods were a product of Prof. Holguin-Veras’s research. Quite the opposite: He said what we were doing would be more hindrance than help, but he was wrong. Not only did he turn out to be unhelpful to us, he’s tried taking advantage of our organization’s success to promote his own reputation.
This needs to stop.
Look insideThe Kelly Letter
“Since 1998, the put/call ratio on open interest in OEX options has been considered extremely elevated when it has risen above 2.00. From 1998 to 2011, there were just 6 days when the ratio got as high as 2.00. Each of those days either came in the vicinity of a significant market top or at least presented extremely limited upside in the intermediate-term. In the second half of 2014 alone, there were 8 readings. And 2015 has ratcheted up the frequency of such readings to a whole other level. There have now been no less than 34 readings above 2.00, all coming in the past 2 months.
“And it hasn’t just been the frequency of the readings, but the magnitude as well. Before a week ago, the highest level of the OEX open interest put/call ratio since 1998 was 2.31 in November 1999. The past 2 days have seen readings of 2.77 and 2.79! …
“[E]levated readings of the OEX open interest put/call ratio suggest merely short-term negative connotations for the market.
“However, given its more extensive history as a warning sign as well as the current ‘off the charts’ magnitude of the indicator’s readings, we can’t help but wonder if there will eventually be longer-term ramifications as well.”
— Excerpt contributed by Jason Kelly
Z-val definition and more forecasts in The Z-val Zone.
In a 43-minute, commercial-free interview with Mo Dawoud of Wall St. for Main St., I discussed my background, Japan’s economy, Japan after the Fukushima disaster, and The 3% Signal. You’ll find a detailed time/topic index below the YouTube panel.
01:12 My Background: How an English Major Became an Investor
03:35 Leaving IBM to Become a Full-Time Freelance Writer
06:25 The Folly of Expecting Everybody to Invest for Their Own Retirement
07:40 We’re Entering a Retirement Crisis Because Many Are Unprepared
10:25 Thoughts on Japan’s Economy, Abenomics, and the Nikkei 225
16:14 Japanese People Are Amazing Savers, But They’re Not Investors
17:34 Nobody Knows If/When the JGB Market Will Collapse
19:18 There is No Inflation in Japan, Everybody Was Wrong
21:20 Fukushima Reports Were Exaggerated, It Was Mostly Media Hype
22:16 Radiation Levels Were Never Dangerous
23:12 Daily Life in Japan Has Not Changed At All
24:22 I’m a Proponent of Nuclear Power
24:40 Not a Failure of Nuclear Technology; A Failure of Politics
26:16 Why I Wrote The 3% Signal (3Sig)
27:00 How People Can Get Around Their Inability to Forecast Stocks
27:15 Importance of Psychological Support Through Clear Signals
28:40 The Plan Explained
30:41 Not Only The Math Works; The Emotions Work
33:40 Why We’re Not Good At Forecasting The Stock Market
35:58 The Stock Market is a Zero-Validity Environment (Z-val)
36:42 The Two Big Problems With Dollar-Cost Averaging (DCA)
41:05 Two Parts of 3Sig That Are Frequently Misunderstood
You can subscribe to the Wall St. for Main St. podcast here.
“[I am] adding long ProShares Short 20+ Year Treasury (TBF) (inverse bond ETF at $23.91) to my Best Ideas List, as I now expect a steady but slow rise in bond yields over the next few years. …
“Growth signposts remain weak –- and this is now well known and grounded in consensus. China and Japan are slowing. The US is traveling at a subpar 2% to 2.5% growth rate and, while showing some improving trends, the eurozone is operating at about 1% to 1.5% growth. It is generally recognized that the unbelievably low sovereign debt yields around the world are serving as “gravity” to contribute to lower US rates.
“While I remain of the view that global growth will be subpar, I suspect that bond prices around the world have now more than discounted this. Moreover, the peripheral yields in Europe likely represent, to me, a parabolic move in bond prices, which are ‘bubble like’ and unlikely to be sustained at such low levels. Should ‘loss of faith’ occur in the ECB and other central bankers, that bubble might quickly burst.”
“Investors should sell any equities bought over the past year, hold the proceeds as cash and take a holiday from the market for six months.”
– Excerpt contributed by Chad Berger