Biggest draft steal ever

Didn’t expect an NFL Draft post from me, did you?  Well, I’m all about people and institutions acting dumb by irrational fear of marijuana use.  From Thursday night:

CHICAGO – Three weeks ago, Laremy Tunsil was the likely No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

On Thursday, he suffered one of the most bizarre falls down the draft board in recent history after a video of him wearing a gas mask and smoking a bong was posted on his verified Twitter account just before the start of the draft.

Tunsil slid behind Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley, drafted by the Baltimore Ravens at No. 6, and Michigan State’s Jack Conklin, to the Tennessee Titans at No. 8, until the Miami Dolphins finally ended his fall at 9:43 p.m. ET at pick No. 13.

Got that?  Presumably the college football player with the potential to have the single biggest impact in the NFL slipped 12 places to #13 because someone posted a video of him using a bong.  That’s nuts!  Go Miami Dolphins for having the sense to take a steal of a pick.  This guy could be getting drunk off his ass four nights a week and nobody cares, but a video of him using marijuana and he’s player non grata?!  Just so dumb.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Fascinating NYT profile of a car salesman who obsessively decided to take on ISIS on-line.  And was arrested by the FBI for his efforts.

2) Smoking gun presentation in the VW emissions cheating.  What I hadn’t known before is they could have just made the cars a few hundred dollars more expensive instead of cheating.  When you look at their liability now, one of the most epically bad, short-sighted financial decisions ever.

3) Frank Bruni’s take on the bathroom wars.

4) Surely I’ve mentioned this before, but this is one notion that always needs disabusing– no, marijuana is not a gateway drug:

And that brings up an important flaw of the gateway theory in general. Science writers and readers are fond of saying that correlation does not imply causation, and this is a perfect example. Let’s say 11 percent of pot smokers start using cocaine, as this graphic shows. That doesn’t mean one drug led to the other. As Miriam Boeri, an association professor of sociology at Bentley University points out, poverty, mental illness, and friend groups are all much stronger predictors of drug use. Marijuana isn’t a “gateway” to harder drugs in the same way that ordering an appetizer isn’t a “gateway” to an entree: One comes before the other, but you’re eating both because you’re already at the restaurant.

5) The case (in video form) for starting school later.  It’s simple, of course– science.

6) How a Cold war command center was built under a mountain in Colorado.

7) Most spree killers are not able to be diagnosed with a defined mental illness.  Rather, they are undefinably crazy.

8) NSF found a great way to shrink the number of grant proposals– stop having deadlines.  Heck, about the only thing I an manage to do without a deadline is a blog post.

9) The neuroscience take on the philosophical question of what is reality, anyway?  Reminds me of all the stuff I used to read for fun back in my college says when I went through my phase of interest in metaphysics.

As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.

Not so, says Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Irvine. Hoffman has spent the past three decades studying perception, artificial intelligence, evolutionary game theory and the brain, and his conclusion is a dramatic one: The world presented to us by our perceptions is nothing like reality. What’s more, he says, we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent illusion, as it maximizes evolutionary fitness by driving truth to extinction.

10) Teen birth rates are way down.  Hooray!

11) Speaking of birth, more research on the relationship between sharing a uterus with older brothers and being gay.

12) Yes indeed, so many “supersized” television episodes are simply too long and need judicious cutting.  There’s often a lack of discipline in making a streaming episode as long as you want instead of fitting it into a 23 or 46 minute block (I’m quite sure this was part of the problem with the Netflix season of Arrested Development).

13) Nice report from 60 Minutes on one of the under-appreciated problems of our current campaign finance laws– it turns politicians into telemarketers.

14) Really interesting interview on the relationship between intelligence and happiness.

Pinsker: One of the premises of your book is that people may have a sense of what will make them happy, but they approach those things in ways that don’t maximize happiness. Could you provide an example of that disconnect?

Raghunathan: If you take the need for mastery—the need for competence—there are two broad approaches that one can take to becoming very good at something. One approach is to engage in what people call social comparisons. That is, wanting to be the best at doing something: “I want to be the best professor there is,” or something like that.

There are many problems with that, but one big problem with that is that it’s very difficult to assess. What are the yardsticks for judging somebody on a particular dimension? What are the yardsticks for being the best professor? Is it about research, teaching? Even if you take only teaching, is it the ratings you get from students, or is it the content that you deliver in class, or the number of students who pass an exam or take a test and do really well in it? So it gets very difficult to judge, because these yardsticks become increasingly ambiguous as a field becomes narrower or more technical…

Raghunathan: What I recommend is an alternative approach, which is to become a little more aware of what it is that you’re really good at, and what you enjoy doing. When you don’t need to compare yourself to other people, you gravitate towards things that you instinctively enjoy doing, and you’re good at, and if you just focus on that for a long enough time, then chances are very, very high that you’re going to progress towards mastery anyway, and the fame and the power and the money and everything will come as a byproduct, rather than something that you chase directly in trying to be superior to other people.

15) Damn do I love articles on how the potato changed civilization.

16) With Jim Vandehei in charge, it’s no wonder Politico used to be horrible more often than not.  Just two of many pieces I saw eviscerating him for a recent clueless Op-Ed.

17) The Aedes Aegypti mosquito is pretty much perfectly suited for spreading disease among humans.

18) Conor Friedersdorf on the small tent of the social justice movement activists.

19) Loved this response to those boycotting Target over their bathrooms.

In fact, if you oppose transgender rights, you shouldn’t even be spreading AFA’s petition using their recommended #BoycottTarget hashtag because Facebook, Twitter, and Google all aced the CEI. Every minute spent on those social media giants helps them promote LGBT equality, including the T.

If you don’t want your money to go to a company that openly supports transgender people, you can’t buy an iPhone, eat an Egg McMuffin, drink a Sprite, stock up Budweiser, or fill your prescriptions at either of the nation’s two largest pharmacy chains because Apple, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Walgreens, and CVS all scored a 100 on the HRC index.

20) Universities are much more interested in genetic diversity than diversity of viewpoints.

21) What it really means to be a political moderate (as opposed to what DC journalists think it means).

22) It really does seem like the NC Chamber of Commerce may have struck a corrupt bargain to support HB2.  They sure don’t seem to be all that interested in what actual businesses are saying.

23) Dahlia Lithwick on Bob McDonnell and the “everybody does it” defense of corruption before the Supreme Court.


We’re #2!

Hey look, NC is #2.  Alas, that’s #2 in the nation in the real-dollar decline in teacher pay.  Bested only by Indiana (shockingly, another state run by Republicans).  Oh, and please don’t give me the retort that Democrats were in charge for most of this period, it’s quite clear when the declining commitment to public education in NC started.


Oh, and the actual graphic at the link is interactive, so worth clicking through and checking out.

It’s all about Calories In

Enjoyed this Vox feature summarizing all the research on diet, exercise, and weight loss.  The research is clear and comes to the conclusion that I intuited myself years ago based on personal experience– it’s all about the calories in.  Exercise is great for all sorts of reasons.  What it is not great for is the primary means of losing weight.  This is quite a thorough (and well-worth reading) exposition of the issue, and I really like that it hits on how it is politically expedient, but scientifically misguided to focus on exercise.  Here’s the final summary on weight loss:

10) So what actually works for weight loss?

At the individual level, some very good research on what works for weight loss comes from the National Weight Control Registry, a study that has parsed the traits, habits, and behaviors of adults who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for a minimum of one year. They currently have more than 10,000 members enrolled in the study, and these folks respond to annual questionnaires about how they’ve managed to keep their weight down.

The researchers behind the study found that people who have had success losing weight share a few things in common: They weigh themselves at least once a week. Theyrestrict their calorie intake, stay away from high-fat foods, and watch their portion sizes. They also exercise regularly.

But note: These folks use physical activity in addition to calorie counting and other behavioral changes. Every reliable expert I’ve ever spoken to on weight loss says the most important thing a person can do is to limit calories in a way they like and can sustain, and focus on eating more healthfully.

In general, diet with exercise can work better than calorie cutting alone, but with onlymarginal additional weight-loss benefits.

So, again, nothing magical– find a system of eating that works for you for not eating too many calories over the long-term.  And exercise, because it’s good for you.


Luck and taxes

Building off a post about luck and willingness to pay taxes from Robert Frank’s new Success and Luck book (which I really need to read) in Vox, Drum describes his own luck:

I’ve long wondered how it is that so many people are completely clueless about how lucky they are. Off the top of my head, here’s the story of my life:

I was born in the richest state in the richest country in the richest era of human history. I was born white, male, straight, and healthy. I was born with a high IQ and an even temper. My parents loved me and took care of me. We weren’t rich, but I never wanted for anything important. I attended good quality state schools free of charge for 17 years. I never had any catastrophic money problems after I left home. By a rather unlikely chance, I ended up marrying the most wonderful person in the world. I had a great mentor at one job who helped me make an improbable move into high-tech marketing. Later I found myself working for a guy I happened to click with, and ended up vice president of marketing. Our company eventually got acquired and I made a bunch of money. After I left, I just happened to start blogging as a hobby right at the time blogging became big. A couple of years later I got a call out of the blue asking if I wanted to blog for pay. A few years after that I got another call out of the blue and ended up at MoJo…

Does any of this mean I didn’t work hard and diligently? Of course not. But lots of people work hard and diligently. In fact, most people do. If I had worked hard and diligently but been born in a small village in Pakistan, I’d be…living in a small village in Pakistan right now. All the hard work and diligence in the world wouldn’t have done much of anything for me.

I can easily believe that most people give short shrift to all this stuff. Hell, I’ve known people who were smug about their real estate acumen because they happened to buy a house in 2002, and then cried about their terrible luck when they failed to sell it in 2007. We all like to fool ourselves into believing that good things are due to our smarts while bad things are all down to bad luck. But for most of us, there’s an awful lot of good luck involved in our lives too.

A thousand times, yes.  Now, I’m not a professional blogger, but my course in life is not all that different.  Sure, I work reasonably hard, but how far does that get you in Honduras or Haiti?  Not very.  Luck damnit.  Not to mention, I did nothing to deserve a brain that quickly assimilates new information, a very even temperament, or loving parents who did a great job raising me in a wealthy, upper-middle class, American suburb.

No, this does not mean one should be liberal.  But damn a lot of people, especially conservatives, really downplay the role of flat-out luck in their success.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph photos of the day gallery.  Nature red in tooth and claw, indeed.



Too many PhD’s

I really enjoyed this Atlantic Post from PhD and former Political Science professor (I had a great conversation with her about blogging after a panel at a PS conference many years ago), Laura McKenna.  Short version: colleges and universities are producing way more PhD’s than there are appropriate jobs for:

Getting a Ph.D. has always been a long haul. Despite calls for reform, the time spent in graduate programs hasn’t declined significantly in the past decade. In 2014, students spent eight years on average in graduate school programs to earn a Ph.D. in the social sciences, for example. It takes nine years to get one in the humanities, seven for science fields and engineering, and 12 for education, according to NSF. In other words, Ph.D.s are typically nearing or in their 30s by the time they begin their careers. Many of their friends have probably already banked a decade’s worth of retirement money in a 401K account; some may have already put a down payment on a small town house.

First, I trust the data on this, and it tells us that there’s a lot of people pursuing PhD’s who should be.  Speaking on behalf of the social sciences– if you are taking 8 years, you are doing something wrong and this is not the path for you.  Virtually every single professor I know has taken 6 years or less to get a PhD, most in 5.  I knew plenty of people in grad school who took 7 and longer.  They were not generally on a path to success.  Fair to say, more of these should be weeded out before hitting the job market.  Now, of course, I’m sure there’s the high-qualified individual who take 8 years due to exceptional circumstances, but that’s definitely the anomaly.

Okay, more:

It may not be surprising that Ph.D.s in the humanities and social sciences are struggling to find tenure-track faculty jobs. After all, graduate schools producedtwo new history Ph.D.s for every tenure-track job opening in 2014…

So, you would think that this kind of information, which has already been discussed in many news articles and books over the years, would dissuade universities from admitting more students. You might even think that super-smart students would try their hands at other careers. [emphasis mine] After all, when news about the bad employment market for lawyers came out, the number of applications to law schools plummeted. Wouldn’t the same thing happen to Ph.D. programs? Apparently not.

In 2014, doctoral programs in the United States awarded 54,070 Ph.D.s—12,000 more than 2004. All fields, except for education, saw an increase, with the biggest increases in science and engineering…

Why hasn’t all this information helped winnow down the ranks of aspiring professors—why hasn’t it proved to be an effective Ph.D. prophylactic? Are people risking so much in the hopes of getting a cushy job with a six-figure salary and no teaching requirements? Is it because academia is a cult that makes otherwise sane people believe that there is no life outside of the university? Are graduate programs failing to inform their students about the realities of the job market? There are no answers to those questions in the charts and graphs from the NSF.

Good questions.  Short answer on the demand side… yes, being a professor is clearly such an awesome job that many are willing to go for it even though the odds are against them.  Furthermore, it’s also pretty clear to me that lots of PhD students have no idea what they are getting into.  I blame their advisers for that.  I’ve sent students on to a PhD who have dropped out, but I guarantee you they would not tell you I failed to sufficiently warn them.

Anyway, I really think this is very much a supply-side issue.  Build it and they will come.  Universities create way more PhD programs than are actually needed.  Why?  Administrators are rewarded for creating new PhD programs.  From what I can tell, there’s little incentive for creating high-quality new PhD programs were the graduates will get jobs.  And as long as there is the incentive to create these programs, they will be created and entice students into them (due to the demand side issues) even if there’s little chance of a good job from a mediocre PhD program.

I’m sure there’s more to it than this, but I do think these factors, especially the supply-side ones, go a long way in explaining our glut of PhD’s.


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