The value of getting it wrong on Trump

Loved this post from Seth Masket because it nicely sums up a lot of what I’ve been saying in conversations.  As a political scientist, we have so much to learn from Trump’s campaign, because really learning occurs when we get things wrong.  Masket:

It’s also a reminder that political science, like most academic disciplines, is far better suited to explanation than prediction. Very few of our publications offer predictions for the ways political events will unfold. Rather, we’ll occasionally use forecasts to test our understanding of the political world. Political observers have offered many explanations for what’s important in presidential nominations, from money to charisma to debate performances to momentum. Political scientists are trying to systematically approach the question and figure out just what is important and what isn’t. Using this evidence to make a forecast is a good way to test whether the theory is right. And a success or failure of the test is an important update of the theory. Indeed, we learn a lot more from failures.

Finally, this year is raising many important questions that will inform political inquiry for years to come. If political science theories about nominations really are failing in 2016, is this because political scientists never really understood what was going on, or because the political world is really different this year from what it has been before? If it’s the latter, what exactly has changed?

Has social media transformed the way campaigns are run? Is the Republican Party just going through a crisis that has temporarily prevented it from making coordinated decisions? And how will the parties attempt to reform themselves to prevent all this from happening in future years?

This is, in some ways, an embarrassing moment for political science, but it is also one rife with possibilities. We will know a lot more about American politics at the end of 2016 than we did at the beginning. That’s a pretty good year. [bold emphasis mine]

Exactly.  No matter what happens, thanks to Trump we will know a lot more about how American politics really works and that’s a good thing.  And so long as he doesn’t actually become president, not so bad for America.

Photo of the day

So, this is cool.  Night-time desert scenes illuminated by drone.  Wired gallery.

Gallery Image

Reuben Wu

You are getting verrrrrrryyyyy sleepy

Or not, if you  are taking Belsomra.  There is so, so much wrong with America’s policies towards prescription drugs and a lot of that starts with the absurdity of allowing direct-to-consumer marketing (New Zealand is the only other country foolish enough to do so).  Great Huffington Post article (that I let sit in an open tab way too long, but so glad I finally got around to it) by Jon Cohn that uses the barely-effective, new insomnia medication Belsomra to demonstrate how much is wrong with our policy towards prescription drugs.  Read it.  Here’s the intro:

e evening in the late summer of 2015, Lisa Schwartz was watching television at her Vermont home when an ad for a sleeping pill called Belsomra appeared on the screen. Schwartz, a longtime professor at Dartmouth Medical College, usually muted commercials, but she watched this one closely: a 90-second spot featuring a young woman and two slightly cute, slightly creepy fuzzy animals in the shape of the words “sleep” and “wake.”

Schwartz had a reason to be curious about this particular ad. Two years earlier, she had been a member of the advisory panel that reviewed Belsomra for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration—and the process had not gone well for the manufacturer, Merck. The company saw its new drug as a major innovation, emphasizing that the medication acted on an entirely different mechanism within the brain than the previous generation of insomnia medicines like Ambien and Lunesta. During the drug’s development, Merck had suggested that it could treat insomnia more effectively and produce fewer side effects than existing medications. In 2012, one Merck scientist described the science underlying Belsomra as a “sea change.”

But when Schwartz and her colleagues scrutinized data from the company’s own large-scale clinical trials, what they found was a lot less impressive. People taking Belsomra fell asleep, on average, only six minutes sooner than people taking a placebo and stayed asleep for a mere 16 minutes longer. Some test subjects experienced worrying side effects, like next-day drowsiness and temporary paralysis upon waking. For a number of people, these effects were so severe that the researchers halted their driving tests, fearing someone would get into an accident. Because of these safety concerns, the FDA ended up approving the drug at a lower starting dosage than the company had requested—a dosage so low that a Merck scientist admitted it was “ineffective.” [emphasis mine]

Of course, the real problem is that Belsomra is entirely typical.  And lett’s be clear, these are political choices we have made that allow this situation to exist.

Irrational fears? Buy a gun

Interesting NPR story the other day where they talked to concealed carry gun owners to see why, in their own words, they carry a gun.  Their stories were enlightening, though not exactly surprising:

“If you’re in Paris and you see people coming with AKs into your rock concert, that sucks. But it sucks worse if you’re unarmed,” says festival producer Robert Farago. “I’m not saying that being armed is gonna save your life, but at least you have an effective tool to mount some kind of defense.”

High school counselor Janna Delany, who carries a Ruger LC9, is more concerned about crime than mass shootings.

“It’s more just for me personally to give myself a little bit of peace of mind, somebody trying to carjack me or hold me up at a gas station or stopped at a red light or something,” Delany says.

Of course, I’m sure these same people drive their cars all over the place.  Or take baths.  Or ride an ATV.  Or mow the lawn.  Sure, it’s got to be awful to be in one of those situations and be defenseless.  But it’s probably pretty bad even if you are packing heat.  And your average person should be far more likely to worry about the danger of their neighbor’s swimming pool or the bacteria on their food.

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