Quick hits (part I)

I was at a political science conference over the weekend, thus pushing back quick hits and regular blogging.  Sorry!

1) There’s something remarkably pathetic about a man (Orthodox Jews in this NYT story) who is unwilling to sit next to a strange female on an airplane.  My sympathy is with the women unwilling to move.

2) Tom Edsall asks whether Obamacare has turned voters against redistribution.

3) Not only do Republican presidential candidates dodge questions on evolution, they are even dodging on how old the earth is (and as compelling as the science for evolution is, the science for the age of the earth is far more compelling).

4) Nice post in the New Yorker on how the death penalty deserves the death penalty.

5) Can you trust your ears?

6) When even Jesse Helm’s former political strategist says the NC Republicans have gone too far (in the Wake County redistricting), you know it’s true.

7) The difficulty journalists face in reporting on quacks and pseudoscience.

8) Back before he was discredited, Jonah Lehrer wrote a nice piece on how brainstorming doesn’t work.  Reading that actually changed the way I teach.  And here’s a recent piece summing up the evidence on the matter.

9) Jimmy Carter is not happy with how organized religion discriminates against females.

10) James Fallows piece a while back on the troubles with civil-military relations these days talked about the unfortunate and inappropriate demise of the A10.  And here’s an NYT Op-Ed from a former A10 squadron commander who is now a Republican Congresswoman.

11) The sentences for the teachers in the Atlanta cheating scandal strike me as way too harsh.  Why do we have to use long prison sentences as the solution for everything in this country.

12) A must-see for Game of Thrones fans– why you shouldn’t invite Jon Snow to your dinner party.

13) Sure, very few people read most published articles, but there’s a lot of crappy journals out there.  Serious scholars have serious impact in serious journals.  Yes, perhaps professors need to pen more for “popular media” but I’d say that Political Science is actually doing a nice job of this.

14) Encouraging teenagers to read with adult, instead of “young adult,” books.

15) Jon Cohn on the terrifically effective anti-poverty program based on home visits.  We need to scale this up!

Child First is a “home visiting” program, which means staff members work with families mostly in their homes rather than in office settings, sometimes meeting as frequently as three or four times a week. The first priority is addressing tangible problems like poor housing or lack of medical care, which sometimes means connecting families with public programs. But the main focus is improving relationships within the family, particularly between the parents and children, through a combination of advice and therapy…

Child First has its own data to back up claims of success. Studies have shown that participation in Child First reduces the incidence of developmental problems and mental health issues for children, and decreases calls to child welfare authorities.

16) If the head of the DEA is clueless about what really makes sense in the war on drugs, it’s time for her to go:

1. Dead kids as a sign of drug war success

In 2011, the Washington Post wrote about a report on the deaths of hundreds of children at the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Asked to comment on the findings, Leonhart said that “it may seem contradictory, but the unfortunate level of violence is a sign of success in the fight against drugs.”

“If this is a sign of success, maybe we should reconsider waging this war,” wrote Alex Pareene in Salon at the time.

17) No, students should not assault teachers, but there’s some real potential for taking this too far if we label it a felony.  Especially for children with special needs (obviously, this concern hits close to home).

18) This was a terrific Radley Balko column on absurd interpretations of the 4th amendment and everything that is wrong with modern drug raids.  It totally deserved it’s own post.  I’ve failed long enough– just read it.

Too much TV

As much as I enjoyed “Breaking Bad” I really wanted to like “Better Call Saul.”  But I know just because somebody has made one great television show is no guarantee for the next (Treme, anyone?).  Anyway, I gave Saul three episodes when I decided that it just wasn’t interesting enough.  Maybe, before the golden age of TV, I would have decided otherwise, but it seems there’s so many good viewing options out there now, it was hard to justify the time on something not all that captivating.

Thus, I really loved Emily Nussbaum’s essay on “Better Call Saul” and what it means to commit to a new show in the modern TV world:

 “Better Call Saul,” on the verge of its own finale, of Season 1, has a lot to recommend it, particularly for devotees of the original show. ..

And yet, nine episodes in, “Better Call Saul” never really answers the question: Would you watch this show if you didn’t miss “Breaking Bad”?

A show doesn’t need to be perfect to have a powerful allure for viewers who just want to hang out in the world it invokes. (I’ve watched every episode of “Nashville.”) But TV is triage these days. While it used to be possible to catch up with every ambitious drama—during that golden era of TV efficiency, when there were only five of them—that’s no longer true. At this year’s Television Critics Association meetings, FX’s C.E.O., John Landgraf, a prolific producer himself, presented a report that was highly alarming, at least to television critics. Last year, according to FX’s data, three hundred and fifty-two scripted first-run prime-time and late-night programs aired on broadcast, cable, and streaming networks in the U.S., not including PBS. Joe Adalian, crunching the stats atNew Yorks Vulture, wrote that the number of new prime-time scripted cable shows had “doubled in just the past five years, tripled since 2007 (the year Mad Men premiered), and grown a staggering 683 percent since the turn of the century.” When people angrily tweet at me that some show is the best thing on TV, I know they’re lying: they haven’t watched most of the other ones, and neither have I.

Under these conditions, the question of where to invest one’s attention becomes more complicated, and, so far, “Better Call Saul” doesn’t offer a clear answer, though it shudders with potential energy.

If Nussbaum concludes that Saul “doesn’t offer a clear answer” that’s enough for me to clear out the episodes of my DVR in case everybody had been raving about it.  Of course, part of my problem is I’m watching hardly anything as the damn internet just sucks me in every night.

Handwriting and forensic “science”

So, I really enjoyed watching the Jinx, and I certainly think Robert Durst likely killed all those people, but I was not entirely persuaded by the handwriting analysis that proved to be so crucial to how events ultimately unfolded.  The handwriting expert was given a target item and an item known to come from Durst and looked for similarities and found them.  I get that this is how a lot of forensic “science” works, but the problem is that it’s not actually science.  Oh, I do think it is indicative and telling.  But that’s it; nothing more.  Certainly not “scientific” evidence that would prove something beyond a reasonable doubt (e.g., DNA).

Actual science (and good social science!) seeks to disconfirm hypotheses, not confirm them, as is the case in the handwriting analysis.  A genuinely scientific analysis would try and rule out everybody except Durst, leaving no conclusion but that he must be the writer.  That’s how DNA works, you are essentially ruling out billions of other people until the only reasonable conclusion is that you have the DNA of the actual subject.  And, that’s what science is about– ruling out other possible explanations until you are left with a sole reasonable one.  And, of course, why science is never truly done, because you can always find more explanations to rule out.

Anyway, I’ve written plenty about the lack of science in forensic science, but actually seeing that handwriting analysis seeking confirmation, rather than disproof, really struck me while watching the Jinx.  And this forum in the NYT about the matter and how we judge forensic science gave me a good excuse to write about it.  For me, this is the key contributor:

The National Commission on Forensic Science was formed in response to widespread concerns that forensic evidence that lacked any meaningful scientific basis was being regularly permitted in trials. The concerns were not just about the “expert” witnesses, but about the judges who, according to the National Academy of Sciences report that led to the commission’s creation, have been “utterly ineffective” in assessing the quality of research behind the evidence.

And, it wasn’t that long ago, but can never really link too often to Radley Balko’s terrific series on how much junk forensic science there is and how it gets way to much respect from judges.

Quick hits (part I)

[This was supposed to auto-publish this morning, as usual, but somehow didn’t]

1) Since it’s been Ted Cruz week, here’s a nice piece putting him into context of the Paranoid Style in American politics.

2) I’d read that redheads are typically more susceptible to pain, but I had not read before that it is tied to a particular genetic mutation in about 70% or redheads.  Not that I’m tough or anything, but I think I am in the other 30%.

3) Nice piece from Bill Ayers on how to make sense of scientific controversies.  Suffice it to say, that an understanding of the scientific method (yeah, social science in addition to “real” science) helps.

4) Nice to see at least one prosecutor who erroneously convicted an innocent man of murder feels bad about it.  Now, prosecutors need to read this and think about being more careful before it’s too late.

5) Totally deserving of it’s own post, but as you’ve noticed, I’ve had a hard time getting to things this week.  Any way, the way police handle the mentally ill in this country is just appalling.  Police were dispatched and told they were dealing with a mentally ill person.  Then, he basically seems to get shot (there’s a video) for carrying a screwdriver.  Worst part, the way police endlessly defend this action.  Whether legally justified or not, for this situation to end up with a man dead, is just horrible policing.

6) Adam Davidson on the myth of job-stealing immigrants.  My favorite part about this is that most of what Davidson does is summarize the research of mainstream economists from across the political spectrum, but oh boy does that enrage the commenters.

7) Some interesting research on receptiveness to scientific expertise.  So apparently, it’s not the Republicans are resistant to listening to science, just that Democrats are particularly receptive.  (Hmmm, something seems weird about that formulation).  Also, the religious not liking science so much.

8) Dogs can actually know the difference between words, not just tone of voice.  Cool.

9) A trailer for Monty Python and the Holy Grail cut in the form of a modern thriller.  Fun.

10) Enjoyed this NYT editorial on the coal industry versus the Clean Air Act.  For some reason I don’t really trust the coal industry’s preferred interpretation of the coal industry.

11) One of my great recent regrets?  That I got an episode behind on the Jinx and had the stunning, stunning ending ruined for me by the news coverage.  That was some ending even knowing it was coming.  Enjoyed this story about Durst’s younger brother.

12) Loved this essay from a Biology professor on what it’s like teaching evolution at the University of Kentucky.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The Republican Senate’s delay on confirming Lorretta Lynch for Attorney General is literally historic in its wrongness.

2) There’s new research that says, no, it’s actually liberals who are happier, not conservatives.  When actually reading about it, I find it entirely unconvincing.

3) Help an NCSU professor do some cool citizen science on heartbeats.

4) Loved this history of the origins of Mad Men (my co-favorite show ever, with The Wire).

5) The good news on Obamacare just keeps coming.

6) The real story of the Irish famine and exodus.  It’s not just the potato blight, but why that was so deadly.

7) Good to know that racism in America is over and the only problem is Democrats spreading “phony racial narratives.”  Or so says old white guy who happens to be a US Senator.

8) Lincoln Peirce, creator of Big Nate comics, came to my son’s elementary school last week.  My son loves Big Nate books and Wimpy Kid books head-and-shoulders above any others.  I really enjoyed reading about the connection between these two authors.

9) So, apparently contestants on the Bachelor(ette) are basically not allowed to have any access to the outside world:

Contestants can’t have cell phones, use the internet, watch movies, or even read books, so they have no choice but to talk to each other, and to stew about their feelings for their Bachelor or Bachelorette, the object of their competitive affection.

That’s like being in solitary confinement, but with other people.  As if there weren’t enough problems with it, I have to wonder what kind of person would subject themselves to such conditions.  No books even??!!

10) Read a lot of good stuff on Robert “Bowling Alone” Putnam’s new book about poverty in America.  It’s important stuff.  Here’s a nice summary.

11) There’s been a lively debate among academics about the group-based nature of the Democratic versus Republican parties. Seth Masket does a nice job summarizing the issues and splitting the baby.

12) How climate change denying scientists are much like scientists of 50 years ago who tried to convince people that cigarettes are harmless.

13) Love my cereal for breakfast.  Thus, loved this Wonkblog post on the most popular cereals.

14) One of my students/advisees with no prior experience with animation software, made this awesome video on redistricting in NC.

15) What happens to a Texas prosecutor who gets a man put to death based on false testimony?  You know– nothing.

16) Speaking of Texas “justice,” Dahlia Lithwick writes

Last week I wrote about thesuspension of David Dow, one of the country’s most prominent capital defense attorneys. He was benched for an entire year by Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals—the state’s highest criminal appeals court—for allegedly filing a late petition in a death penalty case. The sanction was doubly bonkers, I argued, because other death penalty lawyers never seem to be sanctioned for sleeping, drinking, or otherwise rendering themselves incompetent at trial. In any event, Dow was barred from appearing before the CCA for 12 months. Which means that his death row clients—whom he represents pro bono, and who may not find other lawyers to do so—literally have their lives on the line because a motion may or may not have been filed a few hours late. Or, as one lawyer quipped after the piece was posted: “Apparently Texas finally found one lawyer to be incompetent: the one who is actually good at his job.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

So, this was supposed to be last week’s quick hits part II and then I was going to do a mid-week quick hits, but whatever, here it is.

1) Are we teaching our children that there are no moral facts?

2) On a similar note, great Lawrence Krauss piece on the importance of teaching doubt and skepticism:

One thing is certain: if our educational system does not honestly and explicitly promote the central tenet of science—that nothing is sacred—then we encourage myth and prejudice to endure. We need to equip our children with tools to avoid the mistakes of the past while constructing a better, and more sustainable, world for themselves and future generations. We won’t do that by dodging inevitable and important questions about facts and faith. Instead of punting on those questions, we owe it to the next generation to plant the seeds of doubt.

3) Do parents create narcissists by praising too much?  Maybe.  I like how the research makes an important conceptual and measurement distinction between narcissism and self esteem:

Of course, self-esteem and narcissism are two very different things. The difference has to do with how you value yourself compared to other people. “Self-esteem basically means you’re a person of worth equal with other people,” Bushman tells Shots. “Narcissism means you think you’re better than other people.”

4) Josh Barro writes about Marco Rubio’s “puppies and rainbows” tax plan.  I think that about gets it.

5) Love the Vox guide to using science to win at rock, paper, scissors.

6) NYT and Deadspin on what’s wrong with the Blurred Lines copyright ruling.  After listening to the two songs, I’ve got to agree (unlike that guy where I was like, “he totally stole ‘Won’t back down’ and just made it slower.”

7) Pi, primes, and cryptography.

8) The world’s most painful insect sting.  No thanks.

9) Synthetic genes in place of vaccines?  Just maybe.

10) Somehow, I had missed John Oliver on Ayn Rand.  As good as you would expect.

11) The really cool part of Apple’s latest product announcement is actually their battery innovations.

12) Time to end the ethanol rip-off.  Indeed.

13) Companies are doing a lot less screening of employees for drug use because– surprise, surprise– it doesn’t really work in improving workplace safety or productivity.

14) So, all this oil we are now shipping throughout the country by railroad.  The infrastructure is simply not meant for it and it is thus a very dangerous and bad idea.  Of course, we’re doing a ton of it anyway.

15) Advice to the unmarried: don’t spend so damn much on your wedding.  It’s crazy how much Americans now spend on weddings.  You know what matters?  That you have a good enough party with your family, friends, loved ones about you.  Nobody remembers how fancy the venue or the food or whatever is.  Just have a good time and save  your money.

16) Yes, a movie with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence did just go straight to video.  I had no idea.  That said, this is one of those rare books that I finished that I should have just given up on.

17) So, the estrogen replacement Premarin is still made from the urine of female horses.  It’s no fun for the horses, but this system makes the manufacturer way more money.

18) Safe to say if General Petraeus had been an enlisted soldier, he would not have gotten off so easily.

19) I gave up on Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, in part, because I was pretty well persuaded by his case and felt like I was getting beaten over the head with it.  Sure you need good data, but you also need to make it a good story.  Anyway, according to this essay in the Guardian, Pinker is wrong and humans have not become dramatically less violent.

20) The case for free range parenting from a German parent who has moved to America.  Why do we have to be so uniquely dumb and paranoid in this country?!

21) A fascinating case of evolution in California Scrub Jays that calls into question just exactly what it means to be a species and our understandings of how speciation happens.  Good stuff.

Quick hits (part II)

1) A better way to prevent young Muslim men in the West from being radicalized?

2) Republicans are all about how state and local government is better.  Except when the local government wants to do something the radical conservatives in charge of state governments disapprove of.

3) Give your babies some peanuts!  Among other things, a really interesting case on what has been the conventional medical wisdom for a number of years appears to have been 180 degrees wrong.

4) So, maybe the universe had no beginning at all?  Sure, I can wrap my head around that.

5) Personally, I’m so annoyed at all the feminists picking on Patricia Arquette for making a statement for equal pay for women at the Oscars.  Amanda Marcotte’s complaints strike me as exactly what’s wrong with feminism.  For one, I agree with Arquette’s implicit complaint that liberal politics has been too focused on identity politics and not enough bread-and-butter economic issues.

6) I had no idea China was trying to fund a canal through Nicaragua.  Sounds like an absolutely epic boondoggle.

7) Excellent piece from Nate Cohn reminding us that Republicans in blue states are actually really important.

The blue-state Republicans make it far harder for a very conservative candidate to win the party’s nomination than the party’s reputation suggests. They also give a candidate who might seem somewhat out of touch with today’s Republican Party, like Jeb Bush, a larger base of potential support than is commonly thought.

It’s easy to forget about the blue-state Republicans. They’re all but extinct in Washington, since their candidates lose general elections to Democrats, and so officials elected by states and districts that supported Mr. Romney dominate the Republican Congress.

But the blue-state Republicans still possess the delegates, voters and resources to decide the nomination. In 2012, there were more Romney voters in California than in Texas, and in Chicago’s Cook County than in West Virginia. Mr. Romney won three times as many voters in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City than in Republican-leaning Alaska.

Overall, 59 percent of Romney voters in the Republican primaries lived in the states carried by President Obama.

8) I didn’t know about the Siberian crater problem and it’s connection to global warming.  Fascinating.

9) Speaking of Russia, enjoyed this take on the murder of Boris Nemtsov.

10) We all take spreadsheets for granted these days, but they really are a pretty amazing invention.  Loved this Planet Money story.

11) The Republican plan for fighting ISIS is amazingly similar to…. what Obama is actually doing.

12) Great Jon Stewart clip on all the hate from Fox on the announcement of his leaving the show.

13) Maria Konnikova on the dangers of leaning in.

14) Ezra Klein once again reminding us that moderates are not actually moderate at all.

15) On how the color blue is actually a recent innovation.  Seriously.  Loved the Radiolab referenced in this post.

16) All the evidence you need for the existence of white privilege.

17) I so hate the Food Babe.  I’ve been meaning to write my own post disparaging her, but I’ve fallen short.  These two do a great job.

18) I was quite amused at how shocked my stepmother was at Christmas-time when we explained we don’t bathe our kids every night.  You would have thought we said we have them sleep outside in the winter.  Of course, there’s absolutely no reason you need to bathe children every day.  (Of course, now that David is a teenager he will definitely develop a smell if he goes too long).

19) Lolita is one of my favorite books ever.  Enjoyed this piece on it for being one of the Guardian’s top 100 novels.  I came across it when “Vladimir Nabokov” surprisingly posted the link in my FB feed.

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