So, apparently, there’s a small percentage of drivers out there who clearly swerve to hit animals on purpose.  Can’t say I’m that surprised, but it is sad and disturbing.  Via Gizmodo:

Our friend Mark Rober from NASA makes some awesome videos, but this science experiment must be his best yet. He basically showed that six percent of the drivers out there are sadistic animal killers.

This is what he did:

• He alternatively placed a rubber animal—and a leaf as a control object—on the shoulder of a road: a turtle, a snake, or a spider.

• He watched one thousand cars pass by and annotated the drivers’ reaction.

The results are quite surprising.

He found out that 94 percent of drivers did what anyone in their sane mind would do: keep driving on their lane. Remember that the animals were on the road’s shoulder, way outside their driving path. They didn’t pose any danger whatsoever to the drivers’ safety.

On the other hand, six percent went out of the driving lane to run over the animals. Think about that: sixty out of one thousand drivers actually went out of their way to kill a living thing that didn’t represent any danger to their lives—and risking their own lives in the process, no less. Six percent were just cruel because they could be. For their own sadistic pleasure, I can only imagine.

I can understand the snakes, but anybody who would run over a turtle is just a psychopath.  Some more fun figures:

Oh, and two more things:

• 89 percent of the 6 percent were SUV drivers.

• Mark repeated the study “on a smaller scale on a secluded road leading up to a gun club by my house. Turns out, if you’re a turtle, snake or tarantula, your chances are almost (but not quite) double of getting run over there.”

Well, as I’m not a fan of either SUV’s or gun clubs, I cannot say I’m surprised.

In praise of WordPress

Well, who would have figured some bad <div> headers in my Chart of the Day post about social welfare states and economic growth could make my blog go all screwy?  The happiness engineers at WordPress, that’s who.  Pretty cool to have such great support from a service one doesn’t even pay for.  And so much prettier than blogspot blogs :-).

More suboxone, please!

Okay, I never heard of this suboxone before today, but it sounds great.  Yes, it is an opiate, but it seems to really help people with heroin, oxy, etc., addictions get over their addictions in a much safer manner with minimal possibility of overdosing.  Problem is, this drug being an opiate, it is overly-regulated and not getting to the people who could really benefit.  Via Planet Money:

A prescription drug called Suboxone helps wean people off of heroin and pain pills, but addicts have a hard time getting prescriptions. So they’re turning to the black market.

Unlike pain pills and heroin, Suboxone (generic name: buprenorphine) is very hard to overdose on. Addicts can take it to avoid withdrawal symptoms and manage their cravings for these drugs.

“People who are treated with Suboxone are able to go back to school, they’re able to go back to work, they’re able to start paying taxes and taking care of their children,” says Dr. Miriam Komaromy, who directs a state-funded addiction treatment hospital in New Mexico. “It’s making them able to return to being a functioning member of society.”…

Some physicians do prescribe Suboxone to treat addicts. But many do not.

“A lot of physicians are very resistant to prescribing Suboxone because they fear it will attract opiate addicts to their practices which brings with it a whole can of worms in terms of managing those clients,” says Seth Williams, a nurse practitioner who treats the homeless in Albuquerque.

Scientists have long searched for a prescription to treat addiction. But companies were hesitant to develop one. Charles O’Keeffe is the former president and CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, the company that developed Suboxone. “There’s not much money to be made in it,” says O’Keeffe. “This is not a disease space that a lot of people want to treat.”

The US government stepped in and partnered with Reckitt to bring the drug to market in 2000. Buprenorphine — the main ingredient in Subxone — became the only drug doctors could prescribe to treat heroin and pain pill addiction in their offices. Because it is an opiate, the regulations are strict. Doctors have to complete a special training, and there’s a limit to the number of patients they can see — about a quarter of them may treat no more than 100 per year; the rest are limited to 30. But the need for opiate treatment has drastically increased, beyond what Reckitt could have anticipated

The prescription drug overdose death rate in the US is three times what it was in 1999, and yet the number of new doctors certified to treat these addictions with Suboxone has plateaued. Dr. Komaromy — in New Mexico — says she thinks her state could multiply the number of providers by five and still not be meeting the need.

This is just a shame.  Here we have a drug that the US government invested in because it seems like a very helpful solution to a very serious problem, but just a fraction of the people who would benefit are actually receiving this drug.  That should change.  Not that I’m expecting it to.

Even more voter ID (and UFO’s!)

How rich would this be.  PA’s new Voter ID law calls for a currently valid driver’s license.  Guess who tends to have expired licenses and would be ineligible to vote.  That’s right– old people.  And we know which party they like.  Via Emily Bazelon:

What if it turns out, however, that the Republicans haven’t dealt the utterly partisan blow they think they have? The state made headlines by announcing that as many as 759,000 Pennsylvania voters may not have the proper ID to vote, because they don’t have a current driver’s license. And about 185,000 of those people live in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold with a plurality of black voters…

This data reportedly shows that between 60 and 65 percent of the eligible voters who may not have valid ID, and a similar percentage of people who actually voted in 2008, don’t have the right ID because their drivers’ licenses have expired. This expired-license group skews elderly and does not skew African-American. Which suggests it may not be made up largely of Democrats, since older voters are more likely to be Republicans.

Of course, this still doesn’t make it right.  How ridiculous that PA would turn away voters simply because their drivers license is expired.  Truly offensive to democracy:

It’s possible, then, that if Pennsylvania’s voter ID law goes into effect, there will be a lot of angry white, Republican, suburban voters turned away in November along with black Democrats like Viviette Applewhite. None of this makes voter ID laws one whit better. As drafted, with maximum hassle and zero proof that they’re preventing real fraud, they’re a scourge on our democracy, which is battered enough already.

Meanwhile, great piece in Mother Jones that really brings the data on voter fraud (or lack thereof) and makes the point marvelously by pointing out that UFO sightings are much more common that voter impersonation voter fraud. Some numbers:

Since 2011, 34 states have introduced laws requiring voters to show photo ID, and 9 states have passed photo ID laws, affecting 3.8 million voters.

Last year, 12 states introduced laws requiring birth certificates or other proof of citizenship to vote; 3 passed.

Only 48 percent of women have a birth certificate with their current legal name on it…

While defending its precedent-setting photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite a single instance of voter impersonation in its entire history…

And here’s the excellent context:

Between 2000 and 2010, there were:

649 million votes cast in general elections

47,000 UFO sightings

441 Americans killed by lightning

13 credible cases of in-person voter impersonation

Texas’ new ID law permits voters to use concealed-handgun licenses as proof of identity, but not state university IDs.

Photo of the day

I’ve never actually had a conversation with anyone about Ramadan, so I really enjoyed discussing it with a student yesterday.  I mentioned something about sunset and was amused that he, of course, knew the precise minute when he could break his fast.  Very cool set of Ramadan photos in the Big Picture:

Kashmiri Muslims offer prayers next to parked cars on a road outside a mosque on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan in Srinagar on July 21. (Danish Ismail/Reuters)


Missing blog posts

For some reason, WordPress is just not displaying a number of posts I wrote yesterday when you load in the blog.  Very frustrating.  Yet, the direct links to the posts work.  At least for posterity’s sake, I’m going to use this post to link to all of them.

The Gun Nuts

The guns the Colorado killer did not use

More Chik-Fil-A

Dinner at Chik-Fil-A

Maybe some gun lover or Chik-Fil-A hater found someway to just make all these disappear.  Anyway, hopefully this post will show up.


Improving teaching

Really interesting piece in Slate on how we shouldn’t just fire sub-par teachers, but work harder to make them  better, as there are actually known techniques to prove teaching.  Now, there’s a hell of an idea– working with teachers to help them improve.  I think it’s safe to say most school districts don’t really budget for that.

I’ve been watching a lot of new graduate students in the college classroom for years and definitely believe that a lot of teaching abilitiy is simply innate.  Great teachers are born, not made.  Some people have it in them, others don’t.  But that said, a great teacher is someone with very good natural ability who works to become great.  And, along the same lines, a mediocre teacher can certainly work to become good (and I’ve definitely seen it happen).  And as parents and citizens, having our kids taught by good, rather than mediocre teachers would be a huge difference (realistically, not all teachers are ever going to be great).  My take has always been that one’s abilities create a natural minimum and maximum of classroom performance.  But it’s a pretty decent range and we should do all we can to help support teachers get towards the top of that range.  And, hey, if they are truly topping out at not very good, then, of course, they need to find a new profession and public policy should help make that happen.

Anyway, here’s a bit from the Slate piece:

If we take firing off the table, what else can be done to resolve America’s education crisis? The findings of several recent studies by psychologists, economists, and educators show that—despite many reformers’ claims to the contrary—it may be possible to make low-performing teachers better, instead of firing them. If these studies can be replicated throughout entire school systems and across the country, we may be at the beginning of a revolution that will build a better educational system for America.

The view that good teachers are born, not made, is based on the many studies that have found that various training credentials and certifications have no effect on a given teacher’s “value-added,” the amount by which he or she increases the test scores of students above and beyond what you’d expect based on their performance in earlier grades. A degree in education seems to make no differenceNor do higher salaries. (Value-added measures have their ownset of critics, who wonder whether the measures—or even the underlying test scores—capture anything of use. Yetrecent research does suggest that the students of high value-added teachers go on to earn significantly more later in life.)

The view that good teachers are born, not made, is based on the many studies that have found that various training credentials and certifications have no effect on a given teacher’s “value-added,” the amount by which he or she increases the test scores of students above and beyond what you’d expect based on their performance in earlier grades. A degree in education seems to make no differenceNor do higher salaries. (Value-added measures have their ownset of critics, who wonder whether the measures—or even the underlying test scores—capture anything of use. Yetrecent research does suggest that the students of high value-added teachers go on to earn significantly more later in life.)

But there’s a big difference between saying that we have yet to find an approach that has been shown to have a measurable impact on a teacher performance and claiming that none exists.  [emphasis mine]…

Cincinnati’s approach combines evaluation by expert teachers—who observe classroom performance and also critique lesson plans and other written materials—with feedback based on those evaluations, to help teachers figure out how to improve. The study that professor Staiger described, by Eric Taylor of Stanford and John Tyler of Brown, focused on teachers in grades 4-8 who were already in the school system in 2000, which allowed the researchers to examine, for a given teacher, the test scores of their pupils before, during, and after evaluation was performed and feedback received…

The results of the study suggest that TES-style feedback and coaching holds promise—Taylor and Tyler estimate that participating in TES has an effect on students’ standardized math test scores that is equivalent to taking a teacher that is worse than three-quarters of his peers and making him about average. The effects of participation only get stronger with time:

Sounds great to me.  Of course, this would involve more money and changing the status quo on how we approach teacher development.  I’d also love to see a study on the impact of genuine teacher apprenticeship.  6 weeks or so of student teaching is simply not enough.  When it comes to actually using education policy to improve schools, it seems that improving teacher quality is the way to go.  Time to get much smarter about that in whatever ways we can.

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