Video of the day (plus reading)

Great article in the Post about how the Ohio State Marching Band has used technology (Ipads and a great app) to take their halftime performances up a notch to a truly amazing level this season.  The Post article has a number of animated gifs to see some of the cooler features.  This whole halftime show is amazing, but to keep things brief, I bookmarked the youtube clip at the Jurassic Park T-rex:

Video of the day

Colbert takes on Fox News paying people to write nice things in their on-line comments section:

Diet soda really works

This one is to raise the hackles of John F.  Somehow I missed this research from about a year ago in which kids were randomly assigned to a regular or artificially-sweetened beverage group and the kids in the diet group gained significantly less weight (of course, all growing kids gain weight).  The conclusion:


Masked replacement of sugar-containing beverages with noncaloric beverages reduced weight gain and fat accumulation in normal-weight children.

Okay, it’s only kids and its not the biggest study, but the random assignment to groups is pretty impressive and seems more solid evidence that ceteris paribus replacing sugar-sweetened soda with diet soda is a good thing.  Not to claim that diet soda is good for you, but I would suggest the balance of the evidence is that is is certainly far less bad than regular soda (and that the evidence that it is “bad for you” is still far from convincing).

Where I ask my wife for $100

So, as you all pretty much know, I’m quasi-obsessed with “good” bacteria and the human microbiome.  Apparently, not quite obsessed enough.  Because until I just listened to this NPR science story, I did not even know about the “American Gut Project” which will actually do DNA analysis of your gut bacteria and provide you with results and a comparative analysis to see how your microbiome compares to others’.  So cool!  Downside, it costs $100 to join the project (and privacy concerns according to the NPR story, though they seem a little overblown to me).  So, hopefully I will be able to convince my wife that this is indeed a worthy expense to benefit science and my own curiosity.  If so, I’ll definitely report back here.

Photo of the day

From the National Geographic Tumblr.

Thunderstorms cause whips of lightning over the plains in New Mexico, November 1989.Photograph by Bruce Dale, National Geographic

Thunderstorms cause whips of lightning over the plains in New Mexico, November 1989.PHOTOGRAPH BY BRUCE DALE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

A Constitutional right to vote?

Norm Ornstein (and others before him) says we need a Constitutional right to vote.  He’s right!

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, is leading to a new era of voter suppression that parallels the pre-1960s era—this time affecting not just African-Americans but also Hispanic-Americans, women, and students, among others.

The reasoning employed by Chief Justice John Roberts in Shelby County—that Section 5 of the act was such a spectacular success that it is no longer necessary—was the equivalent of taking down speed cameras and traffic lights and removing speed limits from a dangerous intersection because they had combined to reduce accidents and traffic deaths…

In a recent election on constitutional issues, a female Texas District Court judge, Sandra Watts, who has voted for 49 years in the state, was challenged in the same courthouse where she presides; to overcome the challenge, she will have to jump through hoops and possibly pay for a copy of her marriage license, an effective poll tax on women…

Looking at the demographics in Texas, the Republican authors of the law decided that suppressing votes was easier than changing either policies or approaches to appeal to the emerging elements of the state’s electorate…

We need a modernized voter-registration system, weekend elections, and a host of other practices to make voting easier. But we also need to focus on an even more audacious and broader effort—a constitutional amendment protecting the right to vote.

Many, if not most, Americans are unaware that the Constitution contains no explicit right to vote. To be sure, such a right is implicit in the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-Sixth amendments that deal with voting discrimination based on race, gender, and age. But the lack of an explicit right opens the door to the courts’ ratifying the sweeping kinds of voter-restrictions and voter-suppression tactics that are becoming depressingly common.

An explicit constitutional right to vote would give traction to individual Americans who are facing these tactics, and to legal cases challenging restrictive laws…

Reps. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., have introduced in Congress a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to vote. It has garnered little attention and no momentum. Now is the time to change that dynamic before more states decide to be Putinesque with our democracy.

I’m not exactly optimistic, but if ever there were a deserving amendent, an affirmative right to vote is surely worthy.  I think even my anti-amendment-for-most-any-reason dad might approve.  I’d love to see what opponents of a right to vote amendment would have to say for themselves.  (Actually, I think I already know.  Stuff about voter fraud, etc.).

Death by accident and mendacious health care claims

Avik Roy abuses the data (if you torture the data enough, it will confess) to argue that the US really does have a great health care system and that Obamacare will ruin it.

First, though, this chart is just plain fascinating.  If you factor out fatal accidents, the US relative life expectancy improves a bunch.  I would love to know more about why Americans are more prone to fatal accidents.

But, or course, no serious person uses life expectancy to judge health care in the first place.  Roy admits as much, but then lies horribly:

If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention. If you have a heart attack, how long do you live in the U.S. vs. another country? If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer? In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates, called CONCORD. They looked at 5-year survival rates for breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer. I compiled their data for the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Guess who came out number one?

[I didn’t copy the chart in the middle]

U-S-A! U-S-A!

This is absurd.  No serious scholar of health policy would argue: “If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention.”  Half the damn problem with American health care is that people who need medical intervention never get it!!  Rather, the actual best way to measure health outcomes is mortality amenable to health care.  And guess what, here the US is not so great:

The statistic known as “mortality amenable to health care” or “amenable mortality” measures deaths from certain causes before age 75 that are potentially preventable with timely and effective health care. Researchers have used it to assess the performance of health systems of industrialized nations and to track changes over time. Previous studies have shown that the U.S. has failed to keep pace with rates of decline in amenable mortality in other countries. As of 2002–2003, the U.S. fell to last place out of 19 industrialized countries.

Best health care in the world?  Only for the hopeless blinded and hopelessly dishonest (I’m putting Roy in the last category).

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