The Odds

From this super-cool medical info-graphic.  You really should check out the whole thing.  This just happened to be my favorite part:

Any guesses as to what people are actually more scared of?

Undermining academic integrity in one easy step

Sorry for being such a bad blogger lately.  Let’s just blame it on the after-effects of Hurricane Irene.  So, today’s quick hit, NCSU’s new GPA calculation policy.  From the memo:

The main changes are:

1.) Undergraduate Grade Exclusion

Undergraduates can select up to two NC State courses with posted letter grades of C- or below to exclude from their GPA. Students no longer have to repeat a course to take advantage of grade exclusion and are no longer limited to 100 or 200 level courses taken in their first year of enrollment.

Got that?  NC State students can now drop any 2 course from their GPA calculation for any reason.  Freshmen forgiveness is one thing, but this strikes me as absurd (as it does to most colleagues I’ve discussed it with).  The rationale is not totally crazy:

The intention of this change is to provide greater flexibility for all undergraduates, especially new transfer students and new freshmen entering with lots of AP credit who were limited by the criteria of the First Year Course Repeat regulation.

Yet, if that’s the intention, there are much narrower fixes, e.g,. allow replacement for one lower-level course taken in your first semester actually at NCSU.  I seem to recall when this idea was first promulgated that it was mentioned that many other universities now have a similar policy.  To which I say, “and if all those other universities decided to jump off a bridge?”

Photo of the day

I did get lots of nice photos of the Maine coast before the Hurricane made things interesting.  This is my favorite lighthouse photo:

Chart of the day


Somebody needs to explain to Rick Perry what a Ponzi scheme is.  Actually, somebody needs to explain a lot of things to Rick Perry about how the world works outside of his head.  Ezra Klein bring us this awesome Venn Diagram:


Hurricanes and government

Nice story by Milbank yesterday about the reality of government response to the hurricane versus a Tea Party world that defunds NOAA:

More likely, however, Americans won’t have long to savor this new competence in government. NOAA has already been hit with budget cuts that will diminish its ability to track storms, and FEMA, like much of the federal government, will lose about a third of its funding over the next decade if Tea Party Republicans have their way.

In the spending compromise for this year worked out between congressional Republicans and the White House, NOAA’s budget was cut by about $140 million (House Republicans had sought much larger cuts) and money for new satellites was cut by more than $500 million from President Obama’s request. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco warned in May, “we are likely looking at a period of time a few years down the road where we will not be able to do the severe storm warnings . . . that people have come to expect today.”

Congressional Democrats and the White House were somewhat more successful this year in resisting cuts to FEMA that Republicans had proposed. But under the House Republicans’ plan to freeze discretionary spending at 2008 levels over a decade, FEMA cuts are inevitable. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress’s Scott Lilly that takes into account inflation and population, this amounts to a 31 percent cut in real per capita spending on discretionary functions such as FEMA.

I really don’t think there’s much to add to this; it pretty much speaks for itself.

Of hurricanes and eyewitness testimony

Okay, the hurricane is the reason for the slow blogging.  Instead of blogging yesterday, I spent 13.5 hours driving home from the wedding in Portland, Maine after United re-scheduled me for a Wednesday flight home.  Since, I’m not going to go a whole weekday without offering you something, here’s the bulk of an Adam Serwer post along the lines of one I would’ve done myself if I had more time.  Short version: eyewitness testimony is horribly unreliable, and at least New Jersey (and I drove the whole turnpike yesterday) has figured this out.  Hopefully, it will be catching.  The gist:

Eyewitness misidentification is a leading factor in wrongful convictions — according to the Innocence Project, more than 75 percent of DNA exonerations involved cases of eyewitness misidentification. In what the Innocence Project called a landmark ruling earlier this week, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart J. Rabner wrote a long opinion holding that the legal standards for admissibility of eyewitness evidence should be modified…

It may seem shocking just how unreliable your eyes can be. The ruling cites studies that showed eyewitnesses picking the wrong person out of a lineup as often as they picked the right one, along with another study showing that even when witnesses are told the person might not be in the lineup, they’ll choose an innocent person about a third of the time. The reason is that our memories may seem vivid, they’re often not as accurate as we think they are. While lineups are constructed of similar looking individuals precisely to force the witness to think strongly about what they remember, this may result in witnesses unconsciously conforming their memory to the available choices.

And this next paragraph is really key:

The most complex part of eyewitness misidentification, though, is the fact that people who wrongly identify someone are often really confident they’ve made the right choice — and that confidence is persuasive in court. The ruling notes that a previous ruling’s observation that while “there is almost nothing more convincing [to a jury] than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says ‘That’s the one!’” the fact is that “accuracy and confidence may not be related to one another at all.” There’s not necessarily any malice in this — it’s simply an artifact of how our brains work.

I’ll throw in an obligatory plug for “Murder on a Sunday Morning” and the great 60 Minutes story on Ronald Cotton here.

College students and google

In what should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who’s ever taught a college class, students have absolutely no idea how to use search engines to conduct research (much less an idea of the fact that they shouldn’t be using google in the first place when searching a specific topic).  Via Yahoo:

Researchers with the Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries project watched 30 students at Illinois Wesleyan University try to search for different topics online and found that only seven of them were able to conduct “what a librarian might consider a reasonably well-executed search.”…

The researchers found that students did not know “how to build a search to narrow or expand results, how to use subject headings, and how various search engines (including Google) organize and display results.” That means that some students didn’t understand how to search only for news articles, or only for scholarly articles. Most only know how to punch in keywords and hope for the best.

Asher told The Lookout that “extremely few students could describe how Google works in conceptual terms with any degree of accuracy.” One sophomore in Biology told him: “I have no idea [how Google determines search results].  I’m just trusting Google to know what are the good resources.”

Not at all surprised.  It is absolutely amazing and depressing how often students end up citing marginally relevant and totally peripheral articles all because for some reason they came up high on google.  Typically, if I have an assignment where students are supposed to analyze a House campaign, they might just have 3 or 4 articles with titles like, “Rep Johnson presents $5 million check to local law enforcement” and be totally lacking in any larger strategic overviews of the race.  Some day I’m actually going to spend some real time in class on this stuff.  I feel like this should be someone else’s job (High School?  Freshman composition?) but many of them clearly aren’t getting it.

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