Baltimore

Of all the people to have insightful comments on the situation in Baltimore, I was not expecting the COO of the Orioles, John Angelos, who has his job by virtue of being the son of the owner (though, to his credit, I learned he’s a Duke graduate).  Well, whatever his background, this is great stuff:

Brett, speaking only for myself, I agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy, investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible.

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the U.S., and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don’t have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights, and this makes inconvenience at a ballgame irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.

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More junk forensic “science”

Nice piece by Dahlia Lithwick last week on how the “science” of hair matching is pretty much bunk and the FBI has been systematically representing it in court for decades:

The Washington Post published a story so horrifying this weekend that it would stop your breath: “The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.” …

“Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.” [emphasis mine] The shameful, horrifying errors were uncovered in a massive, three-year review by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project…

Chillingly, as the Post continues, “the cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death.” Of these defendants, 14 have already been executed or died in prison.

The massive review raises questions about the veracity of not just expert hair testimony, but also the bite-mark and other forensic testimony offered as objective, scientific evidence to jurors who, not unreasonably, believed that scientists in white coats knew what they were talking about. As Peter Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, put it, “The FBI’s three-decade use of microscopic hair analysis to incriminate defendants was a complete disaster.”

I will take issue with that “raises questions” in the previous paragraph.  There’s not questions, we actually are quite sure that bite mark analysis is complete bunk and as much science as astrology.  Lithwick concludes:

Since prison-crowding and justice reform are widely touted as issues that unite the left and the right in this country, going back and retesting the evidence of those who may well have been wrongly imprisoned should be a national priority. So far it isn’t, perhaps because the scope of the enterprise is so daunting. Or perhaps because nobody really cares all that much about people who’ve been sitting in jail for years and years. Says Garrett: “These victims may remain unrecognized and in prison—if they still live—and the same unscientific testimony continues to be delivered without limitation. … But hey, these are just criminal cases right?”

Yep.  Lord knows how many people are rotting away in prison for fake “science” that we’ve known for years isn’t actually science, but prosecutors have been pretending (and judges have been going along) actually is for years.  You’d like to think that now that we know how bad the scope of the problem is, we can make some progress.  Alas, it seems the scope of the problem may be scaring off people from taking it on.  Until then, just more innocent people in jail.

Photo of the day

From a cool New Yorker gallery on how the Everglades have changed over the years:

“Cypress Slough and Mist, Cypress Lodge, Punta Gorda, Florida, January 31, 1974.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY ELIOT PORTER / COURTESY NORTON MUSEUM OF ART

Gender and GMO foods

So, that Political Science conference I went to last week that got me behind in blogging?  I actually presented some pretty cool (or so I thought) research that– for a change– was not about the politics of parenthood.  My usual partner-in-crime, Laurel Elder, and I wrote a paper on the gender gap in attitudes towards genetically-modified food.  You will not be surprised to know this was my idea, but Laurel is always game for matters of gender gap.  Anyway, what’s interesting is that women are consistently more skeptical of GM foods no matter how you look at it and/or ask the question.  That’s well established.  The goal of our research was to figure out why.  You can take a look at the paper if you are curious.  And if you want the pithy summary with tables, here’s my powerpoint slides from the conference.  Here’s the abstract:

Women and men have been shown to have systematically different attitudes across a variety of policy domains within American politics.  Although a number of surveys and studies have indicated a pervasive gender gap on attitudes towards GM foods—with women consistently more skeptical then men— there have not been any efforts to understand this robust gap within the context of what we know about gender and political attitudes.  Using a variety of measures of attitudes towards GM foods from both the 2006 General Social Survey and a 2013 CBS/Vanity Fair survey, we explore a number of theories for the gap and attempt to determine its underpinnings.  We consider demographic (including parenthood), political, science, and risk perception factors, but ultimately find that none of these things are able to explain what it is that causes women to be more negative towards GM foods than men.  In short, whatever features of women’s or men’s experiences are responsible for this gender gap remain uncovered.  We also find very little evidence for politicization of the issue and that, much like the gender gap, there is a persistent and robust gap in which minorities are also more skeptical of GM foods.

Got that?  Unable to explain the gap.  I actually think that’s kind of cool.  Met a really smart political scientist on the panel who is interested in similar issues, so the next step is to find some more data and try harder.  Regardless, I do think it is really interesting that there appears to be something in the socialization of women versus men that has a robust and pervasive effect on attitudes towards GMO’s.

Here’s one of our tables that uses unwillingness to eat  GM food as the dependent variable:

gmo

Anyway, I had a lot of fun talking to a variety of people and hearing out their ideas on what might be explaining this gap that we have not controlled for in the model.  Happy to hear your ideas, too.

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