Quick hits (part I)

1a) The loss of so many newspaper reporters is not just bad for the newspaper, it is bad for those of us who believe in democracy and accountable government.  Subscribe to your local newspaper, damnit!  I mean it.  Here’s the sad take on the loss of journalism in California:

The body count is staggering.

In my 43 years as a journalist, armies of trained bloodhounds have been run out of newsrooms where I’ve worked, victims of layoffs, and buyouts, and battle fatigue. I’ve lost so many hundreds of colleagues, I can’t keep track of where they ended up.

These were smart, curious reporters, photographers and editors who told stories that defined place and time and made us all know each other a little better. They covered the arts and the local sports teams. They bird-dogged city councils, courts, law enforcement, school districts and other agencies that spend our tax dollars, bearing witness, asking questions and rooting out corruption.

There is less watching today, even though California’s population has nearly doubled since I began my career, and we are all poorer for it.

It might seem like the opposite is true — that there’s more information available than ever, because of incessant chirping on cable news, nightly car chases on local outlets, digital news sites and social media news feeds.

What’s lost when the reporters go

But what’s vanished or been greatly diminished in far too many places is good, solid reporting on local and state affairs, and we don’t even know what that has cost us through mismanagement, misuse of funds and outright corruption.

1b) Some small hope…Report for America modeled after AmeriCorps.

2) Krugman on the advances in renewable energy technology and how our problems going forward are more political than technological.

3) The NYT Magazine story of Liberty University’s on-line education empire is something else.  Their business model is to provide the crappiest possible education with less oversight than for-profit on-line universities get.

4) It’s kind of crazy that in 2018 SNL is doing a send-up of Les Miserables about ordering lobster.  But I loved Les Mis and I loved this.

5) Spend money on paying other people to do housework (if you can, obviously) for the good of your marriage.  This one definitely reduces friction in the Greene household:

Many of us are busy at work, but even at home, there is a lot of work to do. Meal preparation, cleaning, yard work, home maintenance and child care consume considerable time for the typical American.

Much of it isn’t fun, contributing to friction in relationships and taking time away from more pleasant activities that increase happiness. Instead of bickering over who will do the vacuuming, would family life be better if we just outsourced the job?

One survey found that 25 percent of people who were divorced named “disagreements about housework” as the top reason for getting a divorce.

In a working paper that cited that survey, scholars at the Harvard Business School and the University of British Columbia examined whether buying timesaving services could improve relationships. The study, which involved over 3,000 people in committed relationships across a variety of tests, revealed that those who spent more money on timesaving services were more satisfied with their relationships, in part because they spent more quality time with their partners.

6)  NYT Op-ed: “The Ethical Case for Having a Baby With Down Syndrome”

7) How often do people use guns in self defense?  Way less than the gun rights crowd says:

The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

It’s a common refrain touted by gun rights advocates, who argue that using guns in self-defense can help save lives. But what is the actual number of defensive gun uses?

According to the Pew Research Center, 48 percent of gun owners say they own a gun mainly for protection. But for years, experts have been divided over how often people actually use guns in self-defense. The numbers range from the millions to hundreds of thousands, depending on whom you ask.

The latest data show that people use guns for self-defense only rarely. According to a Harvard University analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey, people defended themselves with a gun in nearly 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011.

David Hemenway, who led the Harvard research, argues that the risks of owning a gun outweigh the benefits of having one in the rare case where you might need to defend yourself.

“The average person … has basically no chance in their lifetime ever to use a gun in self-defense,” he tellsHere & Now‘s Robin Young. “But … every day, they have a chance to use the gun inappropriately. They have a chance, they get angry. They get scared.”

But the research spread by the gun lobby paints a drastically different picture of self-defense gun uses. One of the most commonly cited estimates of defensive gun uses, published in 1995 by criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, concluded there are between 2.2 and 2.5 million defensive gun uses annually..

“The researchers who look at [Kleck’s study] say this is just bad science,” Hemenway says. “It’s a well-known problem in epidemiology that if something’s a rare event, and you just try to ask how many people have done this, you will get incredible overestimates.”

In fact, Cook toldThe Washington Post that the percentage of people who told Kleck they used a gun in self-defense is similar to the percentage of Americans who said they were abducted by aliensThe Post notes that “a more reasonable estimate” of self-defense gun uses equals about 100,000 annually, according to the NCVS data.

8) Our Lieutenant Governor is an embarrassing, far-right loon.  Hopefully, he’ll be trounced when he runs for governor in 2020.

9) California billionaire Tom Steyer has been wasting a ton of his money on a quixotic quest for impeachment.  If he really wants to impeach Trump, he’s definitely wise to direct more of his money to encouraging youth turn-out in 2020 in swing states like NC.  Now that’s how to spend your political money.

10) Pretty cool example of what you can now do to create totally fake video.  I’m not as worried as many because if this stuff really becomes pervasive, the only people who believe it will be the ones already believing the Pizzagate stuff anyway.

11) So a couple weeks ago, I linked to a Rolling Stone story about the environmental degradation caused by the pork industry in North Carolina (actually, I forgot the link, but had an extensive quote).  Much to my surprise (I’m not exactly Kevin Drum in my readership numbers), the CEO of the NC Pork Council emailed me to stop spreading mis-information.  You can decide whether you want to believe Rolling Stone or the NC Pork Council.

12) There’s a huge gender disparity (way too many men largely due to selective abortions) in India and China.  This is very, very not good for society:

othing like this has happened in human history. A combination of cultural preferences, government decree and modern medical technology in the world’s two largest countries has created a gender imbalance on a continental scale. Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.

The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching: Beyond an epidemic of loneliness, the imbalance distorts labor markets, drives up savings rates in China and drives down consumption, artificially inflates certain property values, and parallels increases in violent crime, trafficking or prostitution in a growing number of locations.

Those consequences are not confined to China and India, but reach deep into their Asian neighbors and distort the economies of Europe and the Americas, as well. Barely recognized, the ramifications of too many men are only starting to come into sight.

“In the future, there will be millions of men who can’t marry, and that could pose a very big risk to society,” warns Li Shuzhuo, a leading demographer at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

Out of China’s population of 1.4 billion, there are nearly 34 million more males than females — the equivalent of almost the entire population of California, or Poland, who will never find wives and only rarely have sex. China’s official one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, was a huge factor in creating this imbalance, as millions of couples were determined that their child should be a son.

India, a country that has a deeply held preference for sons and male heirs, has an excess of 37 million males, according to its most recent census. The number of newborn female babies compared with males has continued to plummet, even as the country grows more developed and prosperous. The imbalance creates a surplus of bachelors and exacerbates human trafficking, both for brides and, possibly, prostitution. Officials attribute this to the advent of sex-selective technology in the last 30 years, which is now banned but still in widespread practice.

13) Can you imagine your kids’ school becoming the nipple police against a 15-year old girl?  Ugh.

Meredith Harbach, a University of Richmond law professor whose 2016 paper explored sexualization and public school dress codes, said the problem arises when schools impose gender-specific requirements based on sex stereotypes.

In the case of Lizzy, for example, the school is “foisting this notion that unrestrained breasts are sexual and likely to cause disruption and distract other students,” Ms. Harbach said. But this kind of messaging that targets young women — your skirt is too short, you look too sexy, you’re distracting the boys — “deflects any and all conversation about appropriate mutually respectful behavior in schools between boys and girls,” she said.

“Who is disrupted actually? It’s Lizzy. Whose learning experience is impacted?” Ms. Harbach said. “It doesn’t sound like other kids had a major disruption, but she sure did.”

14) The editor of the 2nd most prestigious journal in political science (and one I interned for wayhe took the journal’s website to defend himself back when) is embroiled in a sexual harassment controversy.  And it went to quite a new level this week, when .

15) I used to joke that Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block was one of two books that changed my life.  Actually, it really did make as much positive impact as any book I’ve read (barely beating out, Healthy Sleep, Happy Child).  Really enjoyed this NYT profile of Karp.  My greatest regret is that the book came out in 2002, two years too late for our first and most difficult baby.  It would’ve helped with David soooo much.

16) Nice take via a James Fallows correspondent, on what Comey did wrong vis-a-vis Trump and Clinton.

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Quick hits (part II)

1) Like this on how Netflix owes its business model of original programming to Stephen Bochco.  Damn, did I love NYPD Blue.  RIP Bobby Simone.

2) Yes, Sinclair broadcasting does have an impact:

Critics have claimed that Sinclair — a company with close ties to the Trump administration and conservative politicians — is pushing its stations away from local coverage and toward a partisan brand of political reporting on national politics.

In new research, we find evidence that that appears to be the case. Stations bought by Sinclair reduce coverage of local politics, increase national coverage and move the ideological tone of coverage in a conservative direction relative to other stations operating in the same market.

3) So, apparently the new thing for Climate Change deniers is to claim that things really aren’t so bad for polar bears.  Pathetic and bizarre.

4) I don’t usually agree with Megan McArdle, but she’s usually thoughtful.  Honestly, though, it’s pretty funny to see somebody who should so know better still be suckered by Paul Ryan.

5) Talk about out of touch.  This Chronicle of Higher Ed piece complaining that professor salary increases were barely enough to make up for inflation.  Uhhhh, yeah, poor, poor college professors.

A rise in the cost of living chipped away at salary gains by full-time faculty members in the 2017-18 academic year, according to new survey data published on Wednesday by the American Association of University Professors.

Full-time faculty earned an average of 3 percent more than they did in the prior academic year. But that salary increase was cut by nearly two-thirds, to 1.1 percent, after adjusting for inflation.

The average salary ranged widely, depending on rank: Full professors earned $104,820, associate professors made $81,274, and assistant professors took in $70,791. The average pay for lecturers was about $57,000 while, for instructors, it was $59,400.

6) So, yeah, learning styles are a total myth:

Either way, “by the time we get students at college,” said Indiana University professor Polly Husmann, “they’ve already been told ‘You’re a visual learner.’” Or aural, or what have you.

The thing is, they’re not. Or at least, a lot of evidence suggests that people aren’t really one certain kind of learner or another. In a study published last month in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education, Husmann and her colleagues had hundreds of students take the vark questionnaire to determine what kind of learner they supposedly were. The survey then gave them some study strategies that seem like they would correlate with that learning style. Husmann found that not only did students not study in ways that seemed to reflect their learning style, those who did tailor their studying to suit their style didn’t do any better on their tests.

Husmann thinks the students had fallen into certain study habits, which, once formed, were too hard to break. Students seemed to be interested in their learning styles, but not enough to actually change their studying behavior based on them. And even if they had, it wouldn’t have mattered.

“I think as a purely reflective exercise, just to get you thinking about your study habits, [vark] might have a benefit,” Husmann said. “But the way we’ve been categorizing these learning styles doesn’t seem to hold up.”

Another study published last year in the British Journal of Psychology found that students who preferred learning visually thought they would remember pictures better, and those who preferred learning verbally thought they’d remember words better. But those preferences had no correlation to which they actually remembered better later on—words or pictures. Essentially, all the “learning style” meant, in this case, was that the subjects liked words or pictures better, not that words or pictures worked better for their memories.

7) I’ve got a student doing a really cool independent study on artificial intelligence (he’s a computer science major, PS minor, if I remember correctly).  He just read some interesting stuff on AI and our criminal justice system.  Reminded me of this disturbing Pro Publica report I think I have failed to share here about how algorithms used to predict future criminality are basically biased against Blacks.

8) Phil Klay is the author of one of my favorite books ever.  Such a great writer and so thoughtful on military issues.  His essay in the NYT about how soldiers and civilians think about each other, and should think about each other, is terrific.  Read it.

Such disdain for those who haven’t served and yet dare to have opinions about military matters is nothing new for Mr. Kelly. In a 2010 speech after the death of his son, Mr. Kelly improbably claimed that we were winning in Afghanistan, but that “you wouldn’t know it because successes go unreported” by members of the “‘know it all’ chattering class” who “always seem to know better, but have never themselves been in the arena.” And he argued that to oppose the war, which our current secretary of defense last year testified to Congress we were not winning, meant “slighting our warriors and mocking their commitment to the nation.”

This is a common attitude among a significant faction of veterans. As one former member of the Special Forces put it in a social media post responding to the liberal outcry over the deaths in Niger, “We did what we did so that you can be free to naïvely judge us, complain about the manner in which we kept you safe” and “just all around live your worthless sponge lives.” His commentary, which was liked and shared thousands of times, is just a more embittered form of the sentiment I indulged in as a young lieutenant in Iraq…

Serious discussion of foreign policy and the military’s role within it is often prohibited by this patriotic correctness. Yet, if I have authority to speak about our military policy it’s because I’m a citizen responsible for participating in self-governance, not because I belonged to a warrior caste.

If what I say deserves to be taken seriously, it’s because I’ve taken the time out of my worthless sponge life as a concerned American civilian to form a worthy opinion. Which means that although it is my patriotic duty to afford men like John Kelly respect for his service, and for the grief he has endured as the father of a son who died for our country, that is not where my responsibility as a citizen ends. [emphasis mine]

9) Almost nobody wants to admit it, but to a substantial degree, sex offender registries are pointless and counter-productive.  Lenore Skenazy on how they are also filled up with kids.

What is the most common age at which people land on the registry? Most folks I put the question to think it’s about 39. But according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, “The single age with the greatest number of offenders from the perspective of law enforcement was age 14.”

10) A mom of a child with autism talks about the incredible life-line that Facebook provides for her in connecting with other similar parents.  When Alex was first diagnosed with his rare disease, an on-line community (though a list-serve, this was prior to social media) was an absolute lifesaver for me.

11) Compared to women, men are over-confident in their science ability.  If I’m not mistaken, men are over-confident in pretty much everything.

12) Loved going to Duke basketball games way back in my day, but never spent any time camping out at K-ville.  I’ve never spent a night in a tent and I don’t ever plan to.  Certainly not in winter with a cozy dorm room nearby.  My junior year I got in line the morning of the game and got in to see it that evening.  Apparently, the system now has tents plus a “walk-up line” that actually lasts for days.  The whole thing has also, apparently, devolved not only into drunken bacchanalia, but mass chaos.  Not pretty.

13) More reason to love Pope Francis.  He actually believes Catholics should focus on humans not just before birth, but after they are born.  Atheist, Drum, with the papal post (and Drum’s emphases):

The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend. Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.

14) Interesting from Gallup, though, to see the slide in Catholic Mass attendance:

20180408_ChurchAttendance@2x (002)

15) At this point, we’ve basically reached the limit of how fast a human arm can throw a baseball.

16) The NYT article on how teenagers become “allergic” to their parents was really good.  I only did to a very modest degree.  And my oldest son, basically not at all.

Growing up involves becoming separate from our parents. This project often begins in early adolescence with an abrupt and powerful urge to distinguish oneself from the adults at home. It’s no small task for teenagers to detach from those who have superintended nearly every aspect of their lives so far.

As teenagers begin to disentangle from their folks, they inevitably sort a parent’s every behavior and predilection into one of two categories: those they reject, and those they intend to adopt. Unfortunately for the peace of the household, each of these categories creates its own problem for teenagers intent on establishing their individuality.

You may think nothing of wearing dated athletic shoes, but if your teenager doesn’t agree with your choice of footwear he may, at least for a while, find it unbearable. Why should it matter to him what’s on your feet? Because his identity is still interwoven with yours; until he’s had time to establish his own look, your style can cramp his.

Given this, you’d think that teenagers wouldn’t be allergic to the proclivities they share with their parents. But they are, precisely because the interests are mutual.

17) And speaking of my teenager, he’s also a trendsetter as, “Middle-Class Families Increasingly Look to Community Colleges.”  Presumably, if he were more “allergic” to us, he’d be more inclined to go away.  I’m not at all allergic to the thousands I’ll save over the next couple years before he transfers to a four-year university (hopefully, NC State).

18) Among certain crustaceans, those with the largest penises go extinct the fastest.

19) This is pretty disturbing.  Increasingly, among dog “rescue” organizations, dogs are increasingly purchased at auctions from puppy mills!  Whoa, that ain’t right.  We’ve had three rescues and all three were definitely found as strays.  (Or were provided to us by very good liars).

20) I never did read 1491, but damn did I love Charles Mann’s 1493.  One of my favorite non-fiction books ever.  He’s got an absolutely terrific piece in a recent Atlantic (read it!), based on his new book, that looks at two competing visions of how we can manage to feed 10 billion humans (as we’ll need to before all that long).

 

Quick hits (part I)

I may be in Chicago for a Political Science conference, but look, you still get your quick hits on time (part II may be late).

1) Jennifer Rubin with an excellent piece on Trump’s actual peril from Mueller.

2) And Matt Glassman with a great twitter thread on the matter.

3) Confessions of a former Sinclair news director.

4) Wow– this Wired piece on disposing of human bodies (dead ones, that is) through chemistry was utterly fascinating.

5) I don’t think privatization of government services should be rejected out of hand, but it is a disaster when it comes to prisons.  You are basically monetizing human suffering and creating a profit motive to treat humans worse.  To wit, this private prison in Mississippi.  Of course, the Trump administration wants to expand their use:

On the witness stand and under pressure, Frank Shaw, the warden of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility, could not guarantee that the prison was capable of performing its most basic function.

Asked if the guards were supposed to keep inmates in their cells, he said, wearily, “They do their best.”

According to evidence and testimony at a federal civil rights trial, far worse things were happening at the prison than inmates strolling around during a lockdown: A mentally ill man on suicide watch hanged himself, gang members were allowed to beat other prisoners, and those whose cries for medical attention were ignored resorted to setting fires in their cells.

So many shackled men have recounted instances of extraordinary violence and neglect in the prison that the judge has complained of exhaustion.

The case, which has received little attention beyond the local news media, provides a rare glimpse into the cloistered world of privately operated prisons, at a time when the number of state inmates in private facilities is increasing and the Trump administration has indicated that it will expand their use

The genesis of the problems at East Mississippi, according to prisoner advocates, is that the state requires private prisons to operate at 10 percent lower cost than state-run facilities. Even at its state-run institutions, Mississippi spends significantly less on prisoners than most states, a fact that state officials once boasted about.

The federal civil rights lawsuit, filed against the state by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center after years of complaints from inmates, seeks to force wholesale changes at the prison.

Testimony has described dangerous conditions, confused lines of oversight and difficulty in attracting and retaining qualified staff.

Security staff at East Mississippi earn even less than the $12-an-hour starting wage made by their public service counterparts, and private prison guards receive only three weeks of training — less than half the training time required of state prison guards.

6) How Jay Wright has built an amazing program at Villanova.  As a Duke fan, I’m horribly jealous.  And so tired of one-and-done’s.

7) Focused deterrence is the way to go for limiting gun crime.  Great explanation in this NYT Op-Ed.

8) Margaret Sullivan is right, “The term ‘fake news’ has lost all meaning. That’s just how Trump wants it.”

9) This is one of my favorite examples ever of how statistics can be mislseading– I’m going to be using it for years.  Why do dogs die at a disproportionate rate on United Airlines?  Because they have been the only company willing to take short-nosed breeds (e.g., boxers, pugs, etc.) that are far more prone to respiratory distress.

10) Love this Wired history of memes.  Including my favorite.

11) And yet another case of a Republican state legislator saying stupid, stupid stuff.  There’s just nothing approaching symmetry here.  NC’s own:

According to a North Carolina legislator, some March For Our Lives speakers also called for a far more nefarious approach. State Rep. Beverly Boswell, a Republican from the coast, suggested on her Facebook page that speakers at the marches expressed violent intentions.

“Many of the speakers at these rallies were calling for gun registration, confiscation, Second Amendment repeal and even the murder of those who would not turn over their guns to the government,” Boswell wrote on her campaign Facebook page.

12) Unsurprisingly to everybody but the regulators who somehow said this would actually help consumers, the merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster has been bad for competition and bad for consumers.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this from  Parkland student who tried to be nice to the Nikolas Cruz:

This deeply dangerous sentiment, expressed under the #WalkUpNotOut hashtag, implies that acts of school violence can be prevented if students befriend disturbed and potentially dangerous classmates. The idea that we are to blame, even implicitly, for the murders of our friends and teachers is a slap in the face to all Stoneman Douglas victims and survivors…

This is not to say that children should reject their more socially awkward or isolated peers — not at all. As a former peer counselor and current teacher’s assistant, I strongly believe in and have seen the benefits of reaching out to those who need kindness most.

But students should not be expected to cure the ills of our genuinely troubled classmates, or even our friends, because we first and foremost go to school to learn. The implication that Mr. Cruz’s mental health problems could have been solved if only he had been loved more by his fellow students is both a gross misunderstanding of how these diseases work and a dangerous suggestion that puts children on the front line.

It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable or violent tendencies. It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that canno4) t be provided at the same institution.

2) Apparently, human ability to metabolize caffeine comes in three genetic variants.  Pretty sure I’m a fast metabolizer.

3) Excellent Wired story on modern technology and the ever-changing boundaries of when a preemie can survive and what the implications may be.

4) Of course, Trump’s talk of executing drug dealers is Trump at his worst.

5) Speaking of the worst.  It’s pretty clear that there aren’t many worse humans than new National Security Adviser, John Bolton.  No wonder Trump likes him.  This NYT article nicely lays out what a pathetic human being he is.

6) When I first saw this NYT headline, I thought it was a metaphor, “A People in Limbo: Many Living Entirely on the Water.” It’s not (okay, it is, but also reality).  A totally amazing must-read/must-see visual essay.

7) The University of Virginia women’s basketball coach has had to give up her job so that she can actually adopt her Senagalese-born adoptive daughter.  And the hold-up is not Senegal, but US immigration authorities.  Shame on them.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it could not discuss Boyle’s case because of privacy laws, but officials said the agency aims to process cases efficiently and “considers the welfare of the child to be paramount.”

“We are committed to acting in the best interests of the children and families while upholding the integrity of our country’s immigration system,” spokeswoman Joanne Ferreira said in an email.

Apparently, they decided the “paramount” welfare of the child in this case involves leaving the home she knows in America to live in Senegal indefinitely?  Or somehow adopting African children will undermine the “integrity” of our immigration system?  Ugh.

8) And, hey, speaking of the U.S. Government doing wrong… how about telling teachers they get grants for paying for their education if they work in high-need areas, but then turning those grants into multi-thousand dollar loans due to inconsequential paperwork issues.  What is wrong with people?!

9) The whole NFL cheerleader thing annoys me as it is just clearly the idea that there should be female “eye-candy” at football games.   And then these ridiculous rules they place on the cheerleaders like they are some model of 19th century Victorian virtue.  Like the New Orleans Saints’ cheerleader who was fired for posting a photo of herself in a one-piece swimsuit on a friends-only Instagram account.  Please!  (The photos are so tame).

10) I was quite intrigued with this latest finding on education, marriage, and turnout.  This is something I’ll be sharing with my classes for some time to come:

A large literature finds a positive relationship between marriage and turnout. However, previous research has ignored the characteristics of the partner. This paper contributes by studying how a partner’s education level is associated with individual turnout. The data cover the US for a time period of more than 40 years, as well as 24 European countries over a time period of 12 years. Including the partner’s education level in a model of who votes shows that the partner effect on voting may have been misinterpreted in the previous literature. The relationship between having a partner and turnout is not as general as it is often assumed. Instead of a small positive effect for a large proportion of the population (married people), there is a substantively larger association between turnout and a small proportion of the population, namely, the less-educated individuals who have a highly educated partner. [emphasis mine]

11) Good argument on how we need to re-think tenure decisions in academia.  And, yeah, more good evidence that we really shouldn’t be using student evaluations as currently constituted.  I do really like the idea of re-thinking these based on some of the more innovative student survey approaches in K-12.

12) Ezra Klein’s lengthy take on the history of “the science” of race and IQ was really, really good.

The only people who hate science more than Republicans

Our court system.  (Okay, and yes I’m being a little hard on Republicans because I like catchy titles).  Great summary of just how backwards our court system is on this from Radley Balko.  As his article title states, “Bad science puts innocent people in jail — and keeps them there.”  Sadly, our system values permanence so much more highly than actually getting it right.  Once a decision has been made– no matter how incredibly stupid and misguided the decision appears on later grounds– it is really, really hard to overturn.  And this is, sadly, often the case in cases that get science really, really wrong:

Since the onset in the 1990s of DNA testing — which, unlike most fields of forensics, was born in the scientific community — we’ve learned that many forensic specialities aren’t nearly as accurate as their practitioners have claimed. Studies from the National Academy of Sciences and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology have concluded that there’s insufficient research to support the claims of the broad field of “pattern matching” forensics, which includes analyses of such things as hair fiber, bite marks, “tool marks” and tire tread.

These forensic specialties were never subjected to the rigors of scientific inquiry — double-blind testing, peer review — before they were accepted in courtrooms. Most are entirely subjective: An analyst will look at two marks or patterns and determine whether they’re a “match.” Most of these disciplines can’t even calculate a margin of error…

The scientific process is slow and deliberate: A study is published. Other studies verify, contradict or refine its results. There’s no set point at which science declares a theory proven or disproven. It’s about the process itself and the gradual accumulation of knowledge.

Courts work under a different set of rules. Statutes of limitations toll, procedural rules impose deadlines, and there’s an emphasis on finality. With science, revision and correction are part of the process — it’s okay to be wrong. The criminal justice system tends to operate as if its very legitimacy requires the certainty of a closed tomb… [emphasis mine].

At the trial level, juries hear far too much dubious science, whether it’s an unproven field like bite mark matching or blood splatter analysis, exaggerated claims in a field like hair fiber analysis, or analysts testifying outside their area of expertise. It’s difficult to say how many convictions have involved faulty or suspect forensics, but the FBI estimated in 2015 that its hair fiber analysts had testified in about 3,000 cases — and that’s merely one subspecialty of forensics, and only at the federal level. Extrapolating from the database of DNA exonerations, the Innocence Project estimates that bad forensics contributes to about 45 percent of wrongful convictions.

But flawed evidence presented at trial is only part of the problem. Even once a field of forensics or a particular expert has been discredited, the courts have made it extremely difficult for those convicted by bad science to get a new trial…

Our courts strive for finality because, the thinking goes, if verdicts can be overturned on a whim, the public will lose faith in the integrity of the system. And if the courts were to truly reckon with the mess wrought by bad forensics, we’d see a lot of overturned verdicts, certainly enough to sow doubt about the system.

But refusing to rectify unjust verdicts doesn’t preserve the integrity of our system, only the appearance of it. Meanwhile, innocent people remain behind bars.

It is encouraging that so many people are taking criminal justice reform seriously now.  But this is an under-appreciated aspect of criminal justice in desperate need of reform.  Let’s make sure we get it right, too.

 

Of all the stupid “wars”

The War on Drugs is probably the dumbest.  In my little opioid-inspired trip on Friday and Saturday, it was encouraging to hear from many in law enforcement that they recognized the ultimate fruitlessness of a “war on drugs” approach.  Even in rural North Carolina, many of the law enforcement professionals recognized the need for a far more holistic, community-oriented approach to drug addiction rather than a “lock up all the drug dealers” approach.

Naturally, Trump and Sessions, fully embrace the War on Drugs approach.  I really liked this NYT Op-Ed that makes a really interesting case for just how misguided this approach is:

Politicians often escalate drug war rhetoric to show voters that they are doing something. But it is rare to ignore generations of lessons as President Trump did earlier this month when he announced his support for the execution of drug traffickers.

This idea is insane. But the war on drugs has never made any sense to begin with.

Executing a few individual smugglers will do little to stop others because there is no high command of the international drug trade to target, no generals who can order a coordinated surrender of farmers, traffickers, money launderers, dealers or users. The drug trade is diffuse and can span thousands of miles from producer to consumer. People enter the drug economy for all sorts of reasons — poverty, greed, addiction — and because they believe they will get away with it. Most people do. The death penalty only hurts the small portion of people who are caught (often themselves minorities and low-level mules)…

Without the drug war, substances like cocaine, heroin, marijuana and meth are minimally processed agricultural and chemical commodities that cost pennies per dose to manufacture. But lawmakers have invented a modern alchemy called drug prohibition, which transforms relatively worthless products into priceless commodities for which people are willing to kill or die…

An overreliance on intensive policing over the decades has also produced a rapid Darwinian evolution of the drug trade. The people we have typically captured tend to be the ones who are dumb enough to get caught. They may have violated operational security, bragged too much, lived conspicuous lifestyles or engaged in turf wars. The ones we usually miss tend to be the most innovative, adaptable and cunning. We have picked off their clumsy competition for them and opened up that lucrative economic trafficking space to the most efficient organizations. It is as though we have had a decades-long policy of selectively breeding supertraffickers and ensuring the “survival of the fittest.” [emphasis mine]

Of course the ultimate proof-in-the-pudding on how misguided our supply-side efforts on drugs have been can be seen in the ever declining street price of drugs.  I spent far too much time finding a chart on heroin prices up through 2016, but this was the best I could do via Wonkblog:

Meanwhile several additional google searches suggest the street price today is more like $200/gram.  So, just cracking down on heroin dealers basically gets us nowhere.

Drug addiction ruins lives.  But so does a horribly mis-guided “war on drugs.”  Let’s treat this like the public health problem it is, take a harm-reduction approach, and actually be smart about things.  On the bright side, at least many in local law enforcement seem to get this, even if our national “leaders” do not.

Quick hits (part I)

Sorry to be late again.  I was on a fact-finding mission (sort of) to Wilmington, NC about the Opioid crisis.  Here’s a “bindle” of heroin (that’s paper it’s wrapped) I actually held in my hands.  It’s a bad photo because I had to make sure none of the evidence-identifying info was in it.

Anyway, on to it, then…

1) There was a lot of scientifically illiterate coverage of astronaut Scott Kelly’s DNA this is a nice article on the reality (and some nice explanations of how DNA change actually works):

What the nasa study found was that some of Scott’s genes changed their expression while he was in space, and 7 percent of those genes didn’t return to their preflight states months after he came back. If 7 percent of Scott’s genetic code changed, as some of the stories suggested, he’d come back an entirely different species.

The misinterpretation of the study’s results spread like wildfire this week, across publications like CNN, USA Today, TimePeople, and HuffPost. Even Scott Kelly himself was fooled. “What? My DNA changed by 7 percent! Who knew? I just learned about it in this article,” he tweeted earlier this week, linking to a Newsweekarticle.“This could be good news! I no longer have to call @ShuttleCDRKelly my identical twin brother anymore.”

2) This teenager got an Op-Ed in the NYT about not joining the gun walk-outs.  Well-written, but teaching firearm safety ain’t going to stop school shootings.

3) Yeah, of course the DNC email hack was actually done by a Russian Intelligence Officer.

4) Interesting and disturbing research on terrorism and sex stereotypes:

How does the threat of terrorism affect evaluations of female (vs. male) political leaders, and do these effects vary by the politician’s partisanship? Using two national surveys, we document a propensity for the U.S. public to prefer male Republican leadership the most in times of security threat, and female Democratic leadership the least. We theorize a causal process by which terrorist threat influences the effect of stereotypes on candidate evaluations conditional on politician partisanship. We test this framework with an original experiment:a nationally representative sample was presented with a mock election that varied the threat context and the gender and partisanship of the candidates. We find that masculine stereotypes have a negative influence on both male and female Democratic candidates in good times (thus reaffirming the primacy of party stereotypes), but only on the female Democratic candidate when terror threat is primed. Republican candidates—both male and female—are unaffected by masculine stereotypes, regardless of the threat environment.

5) This is a great interview that hits at basically everything you need to know about food and nutrition and takes on many misconceptions.  That said, it really all comes down to Michael Pollan’s aphorism… Eat (minimally-processed) food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

6) Meanwhile, a great story about how The Joy of Cooking took on some very misleading food science research.

7) This Onion headline is so me, “Accidentally Closing Browser Window With 23 Tabs Open Presents Rare Chance At New Life.”  Except in my case, I’m desperate to recover all the open tabs.

8) More really interesting PS research in the latest PRQ.  And why, sadly, it’s not enough to even ask women to run for office more (which we do need to do more than ever):

Gender differences in who gets recruited by political party elites contribute to women’s underrepresentation on the ballot, but recent evidence suggests that even when women are recruited to the same extent as men, they are still less likely to be interested in seeking office. Why do men and women respond differently to invitations to seek office? We hypothesize that women view party recruitment as a weaker signal of informal support than men do. We use a survey experiment on a sample of 3,640 elected municipal officeholders—themselves prospective recruits for higher office—to test this. We find that female respondents generally believe party leaders will provide female recruits less strategic and financial support than male recruits. In other words, even when elites recruit women, women are skeptical that party leaders will use their political and social capital on their behalf. This difference may account for many women’s lukewarm responses to recruitment.  [emphasis mine]

9) Really liked this from a widow friend, “‘Stay Strong,’ And Other Useless Drivel We Tell The Grieving.”

10) Drum on Facebook:

In a sense, though, I don’t blame either Facebook or Zuckerberg for any of this. As a country, we’ve made it crystal clear that we don’t care about personal privacy. We mock European privacy directives. We ignore the dozens of companies that do exactly the same thing as Facebook but have lower profiles. We allow credit reporting companies to collect anything they want with no oversight at all when they screw up and wreck someone’s life. On a personal level, we’re routinely willing to turn over every detail of our lives in return for a $1 iTunes coupon.

If we don’t like the idea of Facebook making our personal lives an open book to anyone, we can do something about it. The way to do that is to elect “politicians” who will write “laws” that regulate it. But Republicans don’t like regulations in general, and Democrats are queasy about regulating Silicon Valley since they get lots of money from there. As it happens, this is not one of my personal hot buttons,² but I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats could make some real inroads among older voters if they took a strong stand on this.

11) I still love March Madness but college basketball sure ain’t the same in the one-and-done era.  That said, the rule is terrific for the NBA and they have basically no incentive to get rid of it.  Short version: the signal to noise ratio of quality players coming straight of high school is not good.  That same signal to noise ratio after a single year of college is way better.  Why would the NBA give that up. There’s been no Kwame Brown’s since the one-and-done rule.  Here, Adam Silver basically admits as much after politically claiming it’s not actually working for the NBA:

In a press conference before the 2017 NBA Finals, Silver said the eligibility rule was “not working for anyone.”

“We think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play at an elite level before they come into the NBA,” Silver said. [emphasis mine] “On the other hand, I think the question for the league is in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger?”

That said, I’ve heard plenty of argument for the baseball model, but never for the hockey model.  I like it.

12) Loved this in the Atlantic on why guilt is good for your kids:

And guilt, by prompting us to think more deeply about our goodness, can encourage humans to atone for errors and fix relationships. Guilt, in other words, can help hold a cooperative species together. It is a kind of social glue.

Viewed in this light, guilt is an opportunity. Work by Tina Malti, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, suggests that guilt may compensate for an emotional deficiency. In a number of studies, Malti and others have shown that guilt and sympathy (and its close cousin empathy) may represent different pathways to cooperation and sharing. Some kids who are low in sympathy may make up for that shortfall by experiencing more guilt, which can rein in their nastier impulses. And vice versa: High sympathy can substitute for low guilt…

Proper guilting connects the dots between your child’s actions and an outcome—without suggesting anything is wrong or bad about her—and focuses on how best to repair the harm she’s caused. In one fell swoop it inspires both guilt and empathy, or what Martin Hoffman, an emeritus professor at NYU known for his extensive work on empathy, has termed “empathy-based guilt.” Indeed, you may already be guilting your child (in a healthy way!) without realizing it. As in: “Look, your brother is crying because you just threw his Beanie Boo in the toilet.” Hopefully, the kid is moved to atone for her behavior, and a parent might help her think through how to do that.

 

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