Worth repeating (stem cells research)

With the recent judicial decision on embryonic stem cell research (Saletan’s got the best take), my discussion board got into a pretty good discussion of the matter.  I was about to write a post on it here, but thought surely it was something I had addressed before.  And yes, I wrote a post on it 4 years ago.  Since my blog readership has probably gone pretty dramatic turnover since then, I’m reposting it in its entirety…

One thing I have always admired (even when I disagree) about the Catholic Church (of which I am a member) is its commitment to moral consistency (something I would not say about the pro-life movement in general).  One glaring inconsistency has always really bugged me, though.  If you are against stem cell research on moral grounds, you absolutely have to be against in-vitro fertility treatments.  The embryos for stem cell research are essentially an intended byproduct of the IVF process.  If not implanted in a woman or used in stem cell research, they will be destroyed.  If experiment on human embryos is morally wrong, certainly so is creating more than you need and throwing away the extras.  I’ve read a fair amount of theology in my day and I certainly understand the Catholic Church (and other pro-life groups’) position against stem cell research, but to be morally and intellectually honest and consistent, it really requires that you oppose fertility clinics just as, if not more, strenuously.  So, why don’t we have fertility clinic protesters?
That’s pretty easy– it would be a political disaster.  Any sympathy those in opposition to stem cell research have would quickly evaporate if they were seen to be preventing desperate potential parents from fulfilling their dreams of having a baby.  The day that stem cell opponents start openly advocating against fertility clinics, I’ll have a lot more respect for their position.

Why you like me

I think I’ve found a new favorite website: Miller-McCune.  I’ve come across the stray article before, but I didn’t realize that they basically take social science findings and turn them into well-written and smart journalism.  There’s some really cool articles I plan to blog on soon.  For now, this one caught my attention:

Why are we drawn to one person and not another? Physical attractiveness is one obvious ingredient, but researchers have identified another, quite different factor that heightens one’s personal appeal.

It seems we enjoy socializing with people who have found meaning in their lives…

“Meaning is a powerful and independent predictor of interpersonal appeal,” reports a study titled “Meaning as Magnetic Force,” just published in the journalSocial Psychological and Personality Science. “People seek interpersonal connections with those who have found meaning in life.”

The idea that the search for meaning in life is a basic human drive was famously articulated by psychologist Viktor Frankl in 1946, not long after he was liberated from a Nazi concentration camp. According to team behind this new research, “a natural extension” of this idea “is that people will seek to affiliate with those who have a strong sense of meaning.”

In other words, people searching for a purpose in life — whether or not they are consciously aware of this deep-seated desire — will likely be attracted to others who have arrived at an answer.

I certainly feel I’ve found meaning in my life.  That must be why you like me.

Quote of the day

From Dahlia Lithwick’s evisceration of the legal opinions of Virginia Attorney General (and absolute embarrassment) Ken Cucinelli:

It must be convenient to have every last one of your formal legal opinions conform to your fondest personal hopes and dreams.

Pretty much sums it up.  Cucinelli is basically ignoring existing law, common sense, and plain-old logic, in attempt to single-handedly remake Virginia policies according to his personal ideological views.  It’s really quite disturbing.

When the Gold Standard is Gilded

Really interesting follow-up story today on the travesty that is the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations.  Like most major crime labs, the NC SBI has been certified by a national organization, ASCLD-LAB, that accredits crime labs as meeting basic standards.  Given the huge flaws at the SBI found in a recent investigation, just what does this say about the ASCLD-LAB accreditation?  Probably not worth the paper its printed on.  And how, you ask, does ASCLD-LAB go about accrediting labs?

Every five years, a team of forensic scientists from crime labs in other states come to the SBI lab to inspect its work. They study policy manuals, double check first-aid kits and review the layout of the lab. They check each criterion they meet and note shortcomings they expect to be fixed.

For each unit, inspectors examine five cases for each analyst. They allow lab supervisors to select the cases.

“They can cherry pick,” said Randall Robbins, a retired lab official from the Illinois Police crime lab who performed audits for ASCLD-LAB. “They also can sanitize the files. Any lab across the country can dress it up and make it look as pretty as it wants.”

Robbins, who now lives in Johnston County, said he asked for additional cases to review for his inspections but said not all auditors do that.

Grubb, ASCLD-LAB chairman, said pulling cases at random is more time-consuming.

This is just breathtakingly irresponsible.  Accrediting a lab only on cases it selects.  Hmmm, I wonder how that will work out.  Gee, we wouldn’t want to do something “time consuming” like select cases that haven’t been hand-picked for approval.  ASCLD-LAB is simply a disgrace.  This calls into question the credentials and standards of crime labs all across the nation.  I’m all for catching criminals– the right ones!

Chart of the day

From here:

Assistant Professor Openings in Political Science

2009-10 445
2008-9 617
2007-8 716
2006-7 730
2005-6 685
2004-5 661

Yikes, that’s one tough job market!  Sure glad I was looking for jobs in the early 00’s and not now.

American conservatives: Al Qaeda’s best helpers

Was only a matter of time until we saw a story like this.  Moderate Muslims– the key to defeating the forces of extremism– keep trying to say that America does not hate Islam, but then we go and keep trying to prove them wrong.  Via NPR:

Experts worry the controversy surrounding an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing right into the hands of radical extremists.

The supercharged debate over the proposed center has attracted the attention of a quiet, underground audience — young Muslims who drift in and out of jihadi chat rooms and frequent radical Islamic sites on the Web. It has become the No. 1 topic of discussion in recent days and proof positive, according to some of the posted messages, that America is indeed at war with Islam.

“This, unfortunately, is playing right into their hands,” said Evan F. Kohlmann, who tracks these kinds of websites and chat rooms for Flashpoint Global partners, a New York-based security firm. “Extremists are encouraging all this, with glee.

“It is their sense that by doing this that Americans are going to alienate American Muslims to the point where even relatively moderate Muslims are going to be pushed into joining extremist movements like al-Qaida. They couldn’t be happier.”…

All this controversy and vitriol are not only encouraged; they’re welcomed. Extremists and radical clerics posted a stream of “I told you so” messages: After years of telling followers that Islam was under attack by the West, the harsh reaction to a simple community center seemed to prove it.

That message, transmitted in a multitude of chat rooms and websites, has law enforcement worried. There have been a record number of homegrown terrorist plots in this country since late last year, and the conventional wisdom has been that the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have moved some young Muslims — many of whom came of age watching U.S. forces fighting in two wars on television — to join the fight.

Fox News, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich: working every day to help create more terrorists.

There’s evidence, not just “his word”

In an overly “bipartisan,” but otherwise spot-on critique, Slate’s John Dickerson takes Republicans to task for failing to properly “refudiate” the ridiculous Obama is a Muslim idea:

Sunday on Meet the Press, Mitch McConnell was asked about the Pew poll that showed 31 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim. He said, “The president says he’s a Christian. I take him at his word. I don’t think that’s in dispute.”

If McConnell wasn’t trying to stir the pot, he also wasn’t trying to lower the boil. What you didn’t hear McConnell say was that the whole notion that Obama is a Muslim is ridiculous because by any standard we use to evaluate the religious beliefs of our leaders, President Obama is a Christian. Nor did he go on to say that any politician who tries to benefit from this urban legend—by courting either Islamophobes or conspiracy nuts who think Obama is engaged in some kind of systematic deception—should be ashamed of himself.

Jon Chait explains exactly what is so disingenuous about this formulation:

To say that you “take him at his word” means two things. First of all, it suggests that the president’s word is the only information we have to go on here. Of course, that is absurd. Second, if further suggests that, the evidence being weak or inconclusive, McConnell is taking the high road by accepting Obama’s testimony.

Soft core tennis porn?

Bill Boettcher directed me to this pretty cool video feature of women tennis players hitting the ball in Super Slo Mo.  The accompanying article is about the “power game” in women’s tennis and how the players are more like men now.  The videos are pretty cool, but there is something a little off about them.  The thing is, it’s supposed to be focused on the muscle and power of these female athletes, but it’s got them all with their hair down and make-up on.  There’s little doubt that this sexualizes them in a way that I think is quite inconsistent with the larger message.  Can’t we appreciate the power and skill of these tremendous athletes without mascara?

Chart of the day

I’ve made the point before and I’ll surely make it again.  But as long as people (i.e., Republicans)  keep pretending the stimulus didn’t work, it’s important to point out that it did.  Via Dylan Matthews at Ezra Klein’s blog:

The blue line is the actual unemployment rate, the red is unemployment without the stimulus under the CBO’s lower estimate of the stimulus’ effectiveness, and the yellow is unemployment without the stimulus under the CBO’s higher estimate:


Watch this

Maybe someday WordPress will allow me to embed Daily Show videos.  Until then, do yourself a favor and click through to see this brilliant skewering of Fox news and the “terror Mosque.”

Why good government matters

So you don’t eat eggs filled with Salmonella, of course.  I’m sure you’ll be shocked, shocked to learn that Bush era policies against regulation helped set the stage for the massive egg contamination.  Jon Cohn explains:

The next time you hear a conservative ranting about big government, ask him how he likes his eggs–plain or with a side of salmonella.

The answers are long and complicated, so, for the moment, let me focus on just one element: The new standards for egg production. Based on what several sources, including former FDA officials, tell TNR, the saga of these standards seems like a case study in how conservative politics and conservative politicians have weakened federal regulation, exposing the public to greater health risks

About that kindergarten teacher

First day of school for my kids today.  David’s now a 5th grader, so now I can definitely claim that I am “smarter than a 5th grader” (though he does pretty damn good).  Alex is “repeating” 2nd grade so he can stay in the same great Autism class he’s been in (they run K-2 and 3-5).  Even though he’s nowhere near grade level academically, it does still feel a bit weird that he’s “held back.”

Anyway, on that scholastic note, a few weeks ago, I posted on a really interesting study that shows for the life-long benefits of a good kindergarten teacher that do not show up in better standardized test scores down the road.  Yesterday, Kevin Drum posted excerpts from an interview with one of the authors of the study that tries to explain this paradox.  Sounds pretty good to me:

Why do you think that is?

One explanation for this fadeout and then reemergence of the impact of kindergarten is through non-cognitive channels. […] For a limited subset of the students we have measures of non-cognitive ability in eighth grade. So what that means is measures like, they ask teachers to evaluate whether the students are being disruptive in class, whether the students are putting in a lot of effort, whether they’re motivated and so on. Now, we find persistent effects of your kindergarten class on these non-cognitive measures. There’s no fadeout, or very little fadeout on the non-cognitive stuff.

So one potential explanation of all of the findings together is, a good kindergarten teacher teaches you the material that you’re tested on in kindergarten, and so you do well on kindergarten tests. That same good teacher also imparts non-cognitive skills, like they teach you how to be a disciplined learner, how to put in a lot of effort, how to be patient….It’s quite intuitive that these non-cognitive skills matter when you’re an adult. It helps to get a good job and to do well in general if you’re a disciplined person, if you’re perseverant and so on.

I think part of the lesson in here is that schools should probably focus more on these “non-cognitive” skills.  They, more than how well you know your fractions, are going to mean an awful lot for future success.   Of course, there’s no standardized tests for self-discipline.  (I also wonder how this bodes for David’s future– he’s definitely better on cognitive than non-cognitive skills.  Time will tell).

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