Hobby Lobby and me

Okay, no real connection.  Though I do get a big kick out of the fact that the president is Steve Green (the spelling of my name used by lazy students who annoy me– is the damn “e” at the end so hard?).  Anyway, the other Steve Green wants to build a bible museum in the heart of our nation’s capital.  Why?  Apparently he doesn’t actually understand American history:

The Bible museum’s proximity to the seat of U.S. government is no accident.

“As many people as we can educate about this book, the better,” Green said. “I think seeing the biblical foundations of our nation — for our legislators to see that, that a lot of that was biblically based, that we have religious freedoms today, which are a biblical concept, it can’t hurt being there.”

Riiiight.  The biblical foundations of the US Constitution.  And even freedom of religion.  Either Green has been reading the wrong bible or the wrong Constitution.

Smells liberal

A friend last week sent around a link to the new article nicely summarized here which prompted much joking on the matter:

A new study from the American Journal of Political Scienceindicates that different political affiliations may actually correspond with different body odors.

The researchers, led by Brown University political scientist Rose McDermott, found that conservatives and liberals smell dissimilar. While the difference is small, it is apparently significant enough that we subconsciously prefer the scent of those who vote like we do. “It appears nature stacks the deck to make politically similar partners more attractive to each other in unconscious ways,” the researchers wrote.

The how is here.  It’s not quite fair to say that someone smells conservative or liberal.  More so, like attracts like:

They got 146 participants to rate the attractiveness of the body odor of unknown strong liberals and strong conservatives, without ever seeing the individuals whose smells they were evaluating. Based on that, they concluded that people find the smell of others with similar political opinions to be attractive, suggesting that one of the reasons why so many spouses share similar political views is because they were initially and subconsciously attracted to each other’s body odor.

“People could not predict the political ideology of others by smell if you asked them, but they differentially found the smell of those who aligned with them more attractive. So I believe smell conveys important information about long-term affinity in political ideology that becomes incorporated into a key component of subconscious attraction,” said Dr. Rose McDermott, lead author of the paper.

I actually looked through the original article and I’m going to have throw some cold water on this.  The support for the hypothesis touted far and wide (lots of links to this story– okay, including me) was significant at p<.1, one-tailed.

In both models, we observe the hypothesized positive coefficient on the negative absolute difference in ideology scores (–Abs. Ideology Diff.), though in both cases the coefficient is less precisely estimated (t = 1.48 in Model 1 and t = 1.45 in Model 2), but still with one-sided p-values less than 0.1. In all cases, the substantive effect of ideological similarity is small, which is to be expected.

How in the world such marginal results got published in the 2nd most prestigious journal is beyond me.  Peer review is supposed to be blind, but I strongly suspect that having prestigious scholars behind the research had something to do with it.  “the coefficient is less precisely estimated”!?  I’m going to have to try that next time I don’t get the statistical significance I want.

Honestly, if the best result I got was p<.1, one-tailed on my key hypothesis, I don’t think I’d send to any journal.  And if I only had 146 subjects, the first thing I would do is get more to increase the statistical power in hopes of having more compelling statistical significance.  Anyway, this is also a great example of how the seal of approval from a major peer-reviewed journal means lots of wide-spread attention when the group of 7 political scientists I discussed this with last week over lunch who had seen the actual article were all skeptical.  At least makes for some good political humor.


Bite me

Though hundreds of been sent to death row based upon it, bite mark forensics, as it has been typically practiced, is complete bunk (great piece on it in this Frontline).  Yet when it comes to cases where the bite marks were the key to conviction, courts have been loathe to overturn, lacking other compelling evidence (e.g., DNA).  Excellent NYT story on this troubling issue:

Mr. Howard had a history of mental illness and he made a series of seemingly incriminating, if contradictory and irrational, statements that made him the prime suspect. Though no confession was recorded or written down, he reportedly told one police officer that “the case is solved” and that “I had a temper and that’s why this happened,” even as he said that six others were involved and he failed to recognize Ms. Kemp’s house.

Three days after Ms. Kemp was buried, the medical examiner had her exhumed so that Dr. West could look for bite marks using a fluorescent light method he had developed. He said he found three bites and — without showing any photographs or other evidence — testified at trial that Mr. Howard was the biter “to a reasonable medical certainty.” …

The death sentence was reimposed and the Supreme Court has refused so far to reopen his conviction. In a 2006 ruling, the court said: “Just because Dr. West has been wrong a lot, does not mean, without something more, that he was wrong here.” [emphasis mine] The court did agree in 2010 to order DNA testing of the knife and other crime scene objects, with new results described as exculpatory in Mr. Howard’s newest appeal.

Just to be clear, this is nuts!  While there may be some limited use for bite mark analysis when done in a dramatically more scientifically rigorous manner (as this article details at the end), as used in this case and hundreds of others it is nothing but junk science.  It is as if the Supreme Court has said, well, we know there’s really nothing to phrenology and alchemy, but maybe the expert phrenologist was right.  Seriously?!  This is the level of logic of the f****ng Supreme Court?!

Criminal Justice American Style :-(.

Gender gap in the NC Senate race

A couple weeks ago I talked to a reporter about the gender gap in the NC Senate race.  Before the interview I mentioned the upcoming interview to my Campaigns & Elections class and my students confirmed that the gender gap in the Hagan vs. Tillis race was uncommonly large– even compared to several other races with a Democratic woman running against a Republican man.   Today, I had a similar such request and while jogging (always do my best thinking then) I came up with what I think is a reasonable hypothesis for what’s going on here.  But first, behold the NC gender gap and be amazed (via the latest Elon poll):

Differences also arise by sex and race. Women offer higher levels of support (52%-33%) favoring Hagan, notably among the single and divorced, while men support Tillis (50%-38%) with the greatest level of support among those who are married.

So, these group differences do fit with what we typically find, but they are atypically large.  Anyway, the one big feature of this Senate race is how focused it is on education.  That’s just not an issue in most Senate races.  And it’s an issue where there is a clear gender gap.  Though I’ve not found any good data in a brief search, I strongly suspect that not only are women more liberal on education spending than are men (this we do know), but that women place more importance on the issue.  It is certainly possible that the unusual and intense focus on education in the NC Senate campaign could be a substantial driver of the unusually large gender gap.

This actually got me to thinking that it was perhaps a significant strategic error for the Republicans to nominate Tillis– the face of the General Assembly.  Had a member of the US House run (a very common stepping-stone for Senate candidates), it would have been much harder for Hagan to focus her campaign running against the unpopular policies of the NC GA.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Patrick McHenry would have probably been a much stronger candidate than Tillis (or anybody from the GA).  Anyway, I do think it has worked out to Hagan’s benefit.

Bill Bennett on the Common Core

Former Reagan Education Secretary has an Op-Ed in the WSJ making the “conservative case” for the Common Core.  Ummm, he’s just a little bit late to the party.  That ship has sailed.  Conservatives now “know” that Common Core is a massive, federal over-reach seeking to take over and ruin state-level education.  I love how John F. summed it up on FB:

LIKE if you agree that the U.S. needs a set of high-quality benchmarks for K-12 education that states voluntarily adopt. These benchmarks should require all students to be able to understand English composition and learn basic mathematical skills. They must at least require children to read the Declaration of Independence, the preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and learn fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and the like. These standards should be developed by education experts including teachers, allow states to build upon them if they choose, and the standards should not prescribe what is taught in our classrooms or how it’s taught. What do you think???

I think it sounds great.  And so does Bill Bennett.  I was actually amused by how hard Bennett worked (given his audience) to make the case that there really was all sorts of bad Obama/liberal-ness all over Common Core, e.g.,

Conservatives have reason to be upset by this federal overreach. The Obama administration has run roughshod over individual rights and state sovereignty, on issues ranging from health care to climate change. But the federal intrusion into Common Core, however unwelcome and unhelpful,

But in the end, Bennett’s arguments come down to the same one’s whatever sane and sensible people who pay attention to reality use:

The same goes for math. Certain abilities—the grasp of fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios and the like—should be the common knowledge of all.

That’s the fundamental idea behind a core curriculum: preserving and emphasizing what’s essential, in fields like literature and math, to a worthwhile education.

Of course all these things are true, but the Tea Party (which has clearly taken over the GOP) has never been all that interested in reality.  The best we can hope for is that the rubes are fooled by re-naming high standards “NC Goals for the Future” or whatever.  Because, I think/hope, not even the Tea Party is dumb enough to want to lower standards.

Needed: rational opposition to GMO food

Really interesting New Yorker article from Michael Specter looking at GMO food via a profile of it’s leading international opponent, Vandana Shiva.  It seems that Shiva has gained a huge following by spouting tidbits such as:

Earlier this year, she said, “Farmers are dying because Monsanto is making profits—by owning life that it never created but it pretends to create. That is why we need to reclaim the seed. That is why we need to get rid of the G.M.O.s. That is why we need to stop the patenting of life.”…

Shiva has repeatedly said that the company [Monsanto] should be tried for “ecocide and genocide.”…

In a recent speech, Shiva explained why she rejects studies suggesting that genetically engineered products like Pental’s mustard oil are safe. Monsanto, she said, had simply paid for false stories, and “now they control the entire scientific literature of the world.” Nature, Science, and Scientific American, three widely admired publications, “have just become extensions of their propaganda. There is no independent science left in the world.”

But here’s the real killer.  Despite being trained as a scientist, Shiva shows utter disdain for basic concepts such as correlation does not equal causation:

Shiva began a speech to a local food-rights group by revealing alarming new information about the impact of agricultural biotechnology on human health. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that in two years the figure of autism has jumped from one in eighty-eight to one in sixty-eight,” she said, referring to an article in USA Today. “Then they go on to say obviously this is a trend showing that something’s wrong, and that whether something in the environment could be causing the uptick remains the million-dollar question.

“That question’s been answered,” Shiva continued. She mentioned glyphosate, the Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with modified crops. “If you look at the graph of the growth of G.M.O.s, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence. And you could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s.”

Specter brings all-too-easy smackdown:

Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.)

There are genuine issues we should be concerned about with GMO’s, primarily with potential effects on the environment (and conventional crops, too, of course, but there are some unique issues), various unintended consequences, etc.  To make sure we take these concerns seriously, though, we need people who have legitimate concerns regarding GMO food, not people who rely on a bunch of pseudo-science, appeals to romanticized views of nature, and out-and-out lies/misinformation about GMO food.  Furthermore, it makes it hard to take any GMO opposition seriously when all too much of it comes from people who absolutely reject a scientific viewpoint in their arguments (“playing God” “Monsanto is evil,” etc.).

I found this summary of Specter’s article and a Shiva response in the foodpolitics blog interesting, but off-base:

They raise and debate the same arguments I discussed in Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety, first published in 2003 and out in a second edition in 2010. As I explain in the book, the gist of the arguments comes from two apparently irreconcilable views of GMO foods:

  1. The “science-based” position: If GMOs are safe (which they demonstrably are), there can be no rational reason to oppose them.
  2. The “societal value-based” position: Even if GMOs are safe (and this is debatable), there are still plenty of other reasons to oppose them.

Specter holds the first position.  Shiva and Hirshberg hold the second. Those who hold the “science-based” position would do well to take societal values more seriously.

Alas, this is not like some science versus religion debate for the beginnings of life which is simply not reconcilable.  The problem is not that we have science-based and societal values in opposition.  I support both positions to a degree– that is I think we should legitimately consider the broader social implications.  But we should do that while relying on accurate science.  The problem is that so many of the societal values based opponents to GMO food are full of knee-jerk anti-science and ignorance.  I’m happy to have a wide-ranging debate about GMO’s with persons who accept the basic scientific conclusions.  I am definitely not willing to do so with those who willfully ignore (or obfuscate) the science.

[Also, a nice blog post from Specter on the anti-scientific frivolousness of GMO labeling]

Quick hits (part II)

1) Trying to fight against illegal logging in the Amazon can be a deadly vocation.

2) Another great example of bureaucrats run amok: a 12-year old piano prodigy who misses school for international piano competitions is treated as an every day truant.  Frustrating that people so short-sighted and stupid are in a position to be making these decisions.

3) Probably not a good idea to pose with a statue of Jesus fellating you.  That said, the idea that somebody should go to prison for this is beyond absurd.

4) How failing tests helps you learn.

5) Really nice Vox piece on Obama and the (expanding) nature of presidential power.

6) During all the US Open coverage I kept hearing about the “Big Four” of men’s tennis and couldn’t’ help but think Andy Murray isn’t really in the same league as the top 3.  Turns out I’m right, but then again nobody else is close to Murrary.

7) Making the best use of NC’s current early voting laws.

8) Nearly a quarter of Americans have less education than their parents.  The OECD average in only 16%.  That’s not good.

9) It’s tough times for cereal manufacturers.  Personally, I never ate breakfast till after college and then I started having cereal every morning.  I was all about Lucky Charms, Frosted Flakes, etc., and then after a few years I switched over to only whole grain cereals.  For many years I was all about Frosted Mini-wheats.  I still like to snack on them, but like to start my day with more protein so Kashi Go Lean mixed with the much more flavorful Go Lean Crunch starts off most days.

10) Fred Kaplan says that Obama has about the best plan you could expect for Isis.  But there’s still a good chance it will fail.

11) America’s higher education stagnation.

12) Latest polls looking good for Kay Hagan in NC and this is good news for Democrats and the Senate.

13) Dahlia Lithwick on how Voter ID laws may actually worsen voter fraud.




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