Parents for birth control

Over at Vox, Sarah Kliff has made some nice charts out of a recent JAMA study that looks at support for the Obamacare birth control mandate.  I was excited to see it broken down by parenthood, but I’d really love mothrs and fathers separately as most all my research shows that really matters.  Anyway:


Naturally, I went right to the JAMA article to learn more (i.e, boy, I would love to analyze this data).  Alas, they went to a lot of trouble in collecting data, but oddly to me, neglected to get some key variables:

Findings are potentially limited by lack of information about respondents’ political views, voter record, and religiosity

Ugh.  So much for that.  Actually, what confuses me is that this is a KnowledgeNetworks study and they actually already have the PID data on all their respondents.  Hmmm.  Anyway, as for the rest of the key findings:

 In this study, women, black, and Hispanic respondents were more likely to support coverage of birth control medication benefits than men, older respondents, and adults without children younger than 18 years. These findings may inform the ongoing national debate around the contraceptive coverage mandate.

Photo of the day

From Twisted Siftter:


© Thomas Wolf, | Facebook


In this beautiful photo by Thomas Wolf, we see the Bastei Bridge, situated above the Elbe River in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Germany. The Bastei rock formation towers 194 meters (636 ft) above the river and is a major landmark of the Saxon Switzerland National Park.

The original bridge, constructed in 1824, was made of wood but was replaced 27 years later in 1851 by the present bridge made of sandstone. It is 76.5 meters (251 ft) long and its seven arches span a ravine 40 meters (131 ft) deep. The spa town of Rathen is the main base for visiting the Bastei; the town can be reached from Dresden by paddle steamer on the river Elbe. [source]

Photo of the day

The South Korean ferry disaster is just horrible.  That said, there are few more dramatic subjects than a sinking ship.  In Focus:

A passenger ferry sinks off the coast of Jindo Island on April 16, 2014 in Jindo-gun, South Korea.(Republic of Korea Coast Guard via Getty Images)



Listened to two totally disparate but equally fasicinating podcasts about the placebo effect last week.

First, the placebo milkshake.  From NPR:

A couple of years ago, Crum found herself considering what seems like a pretty strange question. She wanted to know whether the information conveyed by a nutritional label could physically change what happens to you — “whether these labels get under the skin literally,” she says, “and actually affect the body’s physiological processing of the nutrients that are consumed.” …

Crum created a huge batch of French vanilla milkshake, then divided it into two batches that were labeled in two very different ways.

Half the stuff was put into bottles labeled as a low-calorie drink called Sensishake — advertised as having zero percent fat, zero added sugar and only 140 calories.

The other half was put into bottles that were labeled as containing an incredibly rich treat called Indulgence. According to the label, Indulgence had all kinds of things that wouldn’t benefit your upper thighs — including enough sugar and fat to account for 620 calories. In truth, the shakes had 300 calories each.

Both before and after the people in the study drank their shakes, nurses measured their levels of a hormone called ghrelin

If you believed you were drinking the indulgent shake, she says, your body responded as if you had consumed much more.

“The ghrelin levels dropped about three times more when people were consuming the indulgent shake (or thought they were consuming the indulgent shake),” she says, compared to the people who drank the sensible shake (or thought that’s what they were drinking).

Amazing!   What people thought was in the milkshake was more potent than what their own bodies sensed in the milkshake.  New diet plan?  Have my wife lie to me about the ingredients in dinner to make it sound much more filling?

And, how about this, not only placebo milkshakes, but placebo sleep.  (I heard this on the You are not so smart podcast, but nice summary in the Atlantic):

Methodology: Participating undergrads first reported how deeply they’d slept the night before, on a scale of one to 10. The researchers then gave the participants a quick, five-minute lesson about sleep’s effect on cognitive function, telling them it was just background information for the study. During the lesson, they said that adults normally spend between 20 and 25 percent of their sleep time in REM sleep, and that getting less REM sleep than that tends to cause lower performance on learning tests. They also said that those who spend more than 25 percent of their sleep time in REM sleep usually perform better on such tests.

Then participants were hooked up to equipment that they were told would read their pulse, heartrate, and brainwave frequency, though it actually just measured their brainwave frequency. They were told that these measurements would allow the researchers to tell how much REM sleep they’d gotten the night before. This was not true.

Then one of the experimenters pretended to calculate that each participant got either 16.2 percent REM sleep or 28.7 percent REM sleep the previous evening. After getting their reading, participants took a test that measures “auditory attention and speed of processing, skills most affected by sleep deprivation,” according to the study…

Results: Participants who were told they had above-average REM sleep performed better on the test, and those who were told their REM sleep was below average performed worse, even when researchers controlled for the subjects’ self-reported sleep quality.

Implications: A great victory was won here for lies, over truth. This study shows that if you’re in the mindset that you’re well-rested, your brain will perform better, regardless of the actual quality of your sleep.

Amazing again.  Hey, you there, reading this.  You slept great last night!  Actually, I think the negative part of this is the worst.  New parents know they have bad sleep all the time.  And this suggests that simply knowing you had bad sleep is going to hurt your cognitive performance.  Presumably, to some degree, on top of the fact that having bad sleep actually affects your cognitive performance.  Would love to see a study on that.

Short version of all this.  Get people to lie to you in ways that positively affect you.

Photo of the day

Took my family to Linville Caverns on Friday.  It was pretty cool and the first caverns I’ve been to in probably 30 years or so.  David and Evan just plain loved it, but Sarah and Alex were about 60% freaked out, 40% enjoyment.  It is a very different experience to anything above ground.  Anyway, hard to get good photos under there, but I did inspire to make a cave photo the photo of the day:

Worst book ever?

Probably not, but it is pretty clear to anybody that was actually paying attention at the time of the Duke Lacrosse case that William Cohan’s The Price of Silence is some pretty egregious historical revisionism.  Most prominently, it is a defense of Mike Nifong, the prosecutor whom all evidence indicates repeatedly lied to the public and the defense team.  This whole crazy case would have never gone anywhere if not for Nifong’s breathtaking malfeasance and abuse of his prosecutorial powers.  Anyway, I’ve heard a number of interviews with Cohan and it’s depressing (but not surprising) that such a shoddy work of journalism is getting plenty of national attention.

The N&O’s Joe Neff, who covered the case at the time, has a nice column outlining some of the many failings of the book.  E.g.,

These would be pathetic mistakes for a daily newspaper story. For an author spending months or years on a book, it’s a revealing choice to avoid interviews that contradict the revisionist narrative: that Nifong is the victim.

Cohan declares the charge that Nifong withheld exculpatory evidence a “red herring.” Let’s review that. Nifong repeatedly told judges he had produced all the DNA evidence. He hadn’t: He and a lab director conspired not to report rape kit test results showing that the accuser had DNA from four unknown men. The tests were sensitive enough to register a wisp of DNA from the lab director, and yet the rape kit produced not a single particle of DNA from those accused of a brutal gang rape.

For Cohan to suggest that witholding excuplatory evidence is simply a “red herring” is truly amazing.  As if this is just some minor mistake on Nifong’s part.  Once I heard Cohan say that, it was pretty clear this whole endeavor is utterly lacking in credibility.

The Pope on taxes

No, not the awesome one, but Art Pope, NC’s own Koch Brother and current Budget Director.  He had an op-ed in the N&O this week that was just breathtaking in its mendacity and lack of actual empirical support for any of its claims.  To wit:

Our tax code is now simpler, more uniform and fairer for everyone.

Tax reform began in 2011, when the General Assembly reduced the state sales tax rate by 17 percent, from a state rate of 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent. Tax reform continued in 2013, when McCrory and the legislature simplified the personal income tax – taking rates ranging from 6 percent to 7.75 percent to a single flat rate of 5.8 percent. They also passed a higher standard deduction starting in 2014 and a flat personal income tax rate of 5.75 percent in 2015.

Oh please!! There is nothing simpler about having fewer and lower marginal rates.  You calculate your taxable income and you pay based on your rates.  It’s that simple.  Whether your rate is 10% or 5% and having multiple marginal rates makes it not the least bit harder.  Fewer, lower rates, basically just means less taxes for rich people.  Surely Art Pope’s idea of “fairer for everyone” but not what most people would see as “fair.”

The truth is, everyone in North Carolina is benefiting from the tax reforms that began in 2011. Sales tax rates are lower, income tax rates are lower and the standard deduction is higher.

Of course, there’s myriad analyses that show that not everyone is benefiting.  And to think just a little more broadly than the incredibly narrow way that Pope is stuck in, I would argue that if you have kids in public school you are not benefiting.  If you care about the quality of education in NC at all, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the mentally ill, you are not benefiting.  If you care about health care for the working poor, you are not benefiting.  If you care about a crumbling infrastructure– perhaps you’ve been known to drive on roads– you are not benefiting.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

If you want to follow Pope’s logic, just lower taxes to 0, we’ll all have way more take home pay, and everything will be grand.  Though, I think Hobbes had something to say about that.

The next time you buy clothes for your children, look at the receipt to see how much sales tax is charged and think of what you saved compared with the old state sales tax rate. Think of the long-term benefit in an economy that is still recovering and of employers, both corporations and mom and pop partnerships, keeping a bit more of the money they earned – money that can by reinvested to create more jobs and grow the economy.

Next time I pay $.40 less for a shirt I’ll be so glad that it won’t bother me at all that quality teachers are fleeing our state or that are universities are finding it harder than ever to compete for the top talent.

The evidence is clear. Tax reform is working, and nearly every North Carolinian is keeping more of the money earned, which is fundamental to building a stronger economy.

If the current evidence is clear, I’d hate to see ambiguous evidence.

And just to be clear, this transparent nonsense is from the single most politically influential person in the state.  Ugh.


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