Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been using Flickr for a while and really like it.  David Pogue writes about 7 great new features.

1) Interesting story of the 1 juror holding out in the Etan Patz trial.

The defendant, Pedro Hernandez, 54, had confessed to killing Etan almost 33 years after he disappeared, but there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. Defense lawyers argued that the confession, which he repeated later to a prosecutor, was a fiction made up under police pressure by a man with a low I.Q. and a personality disorder clouding his ability to tell fact from fantasy.

Given what I know of coerced confessions, if there’s no physical evidence and the chief evidence is a recanted confession, that’s sure reasonable doubt for me (it does sound somewhat more complicated than that, but the story got a little confusing).

3) Nice NYT Editorial on how racism doomed Baltimore.

4) Seth Masket makes a good point– should we really have primaries to choose candidates anyway?

5) Nice Op-Ed on how NC needs to invest in teachers.

6) Whether you want to call it a “war on science” or not, Republicans sadly don’t believe that government should be supporting science (or that legislators should be listening to what scientists have to say).  John Cassidy:

Cutting NASA and the N.S.F.’s climate-science budgets isn’t going to alter the basic realities of climate change. No one needs an advanced degree to understand this. Indeed, the idea that ignoring a problem isn’t going to make it go away is one that kids should grasp by the time they’re six or seven. But ignoring a problem does often make it more difficult to solve. And that, you have to assume, in a perverse way, is the goal here. What we don’t know, we can’t act on.

“It’s hard to believe that in order to serve an ideological agenda, the majority is willing to slash the science that helps us have a better understanding of our home planet,” Representative Johnson wrote. Hard to believe, but, unfortunately, true.

7) Meanwhile the state of Wyoming (that is, the Republicans in government) seems to have outlawed citizen science.

8) On the bright side, Vox presents an interesting interview with a Republican (of the liberatarian stripe) who has been convinced of climate change and why he has been (and it is a good argument):

So [Litterman] came in to talk to me and my then-colleague, Peter Van Dorn, and laid out what I thought a very powerful argument. In brief it went like this: the issues associated with climate change are not that different from the risk issues we deal with in the financial markets every day. We know there’s a risk — we don’t know how big the risk is, we’re not entirely sure about all of the parameters, but we know it’s there. And we know it’s a low-probability, high-impact risk. So what do we do about that in our financial markets? Well, if it’s a nondiversifiable risk, we know that people pay plenty of money to avoid it.

[Litterman’s] point was that if this sort of risk were to arise in any other context in the private markets, people would pay real money to hedge against it. He did it every day for his clients. Even if Pat Michaels and Dick Lindzen and the rest [of the climate-skeptic scientists] are absolutely correct about the modest impacts of climate change as the most likely outcome, it’s not the most likely outcome that counts here. Nobody would manage risk based on the most likely outcome in a world of great uncertainty. If that were the case, we’d have all our money in equities. No one would spend money on anything else. But we don’t act that way.

9) Assigned this “Bad Feminist” essay by Roxane Gay to my Gender & Politics class.  I really like it.

10) Among the consensus conclusions from my Criminal Justice policy class this past semester was that we need to invest more in better police training.  In Indiana and Arkansas you don’t necessarily need any training.

11) An interesting feature of the Dutch economy is that a lot of people work part-time.  The Economist explains why.

12) Thanks to Mika for sharing this link on a “moneyball” approach with a Danish soccer team.  Fascinating!

13) The story of a doctor who believed in “alternative medicine”– it’s oh-so-compelling when you are looking for any hope in a struggle against autism in a child– and his journey back to science.

14) Dylan Matthews on how giving money to your wealthy alma mater is about the least beneficial thing you can do with your money.  Of course, I was convinced by this logic long ago, which is why Give Directly gets my money and Duke doesn’t.

15) Great Richard Thaler piece on how irrelevant things matter a ton in our economic decision making and classical economists (as opposed to behavioral economists) do their best to pretend this isn’t true:

There is a version of this magic market argument that I call the invisible hand wave. It goes something like this. “Yes, it is true that my spouse and my students and members of Congress don’t understand anything about economics, but when they have to interact with markets. …” It is at this point that the hand waving comes in. Words and phrases such as high stakes, learning and arbitrage are thrown around to suggest some of the ways that markets can do their magic, but it is my claim that no one has ever finished making the argument with both hands remaining still.

Hand waving is required because there is nothing in the workings of markets that turns otherwise normal human beings into Econs. For example, if you choose the wrong career, select the wrong mortgage or fail to save for retirement, markets do not correct those failings. In fact, quite the opposite often happens. It is much easier to make money by catering to consumers’ biases than by trying to correct them.

16) And, lastly, we’ll finish with another long excerpt.  Finally got around to reading this really long essay from a former Lost writer on whether they were just making stuff up as they went along.  (Apparently, much less so than I assumed they were guilty of).  If you were a fan of the show (and you should be) definitely worth reading the whole thing.

First we built a world. Then we filled it with an ensemble of flawed but interesting characters — people who were real to us, people with enough depth in their respective psyches to withstand years of careful dramatic analysis. Then we created a thrilling and undeniable set of circumstances in which these characters had to bond together and solve problems in interesting ways.

Soon thereafter, we created a way for you to witness their pasts and compare the people they once were with the people they were in the process of becoming. While that was going on, we also created an entire 747s worth of ideas, notions, fragments, complications, and concepts that would — if properly and thoughtfully mined — yield enough narrative fiction to last as long as our corporate overlords would demand to feed their need for profit and prestige, and then, just to be sure, teams of exceptionally talented people worked nonstop to make sure the 747 never emptied out.

And then we made it all up as we went.

 

Quick hits (Part II)

1) TNR’s Danny Vinik on how the Republican party is out of ideas.

2) My kids love Phineas and Ferb and alas no new episodes.  This Slate article explains what makes it so good.

3) Nice editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal on how NC Republicans need to value education.  I don’t think they are listening.

4) More and more people seem to be figuring out that the “war on drugs” isn’t just a colossal failure here in America, but around the world.

Many of the harms associated with drug use — the violence, the criminal activity, the loss of life — have been shown to be direct consequences of the way we wage the drug war, rather than of drug use itself. More countries are beginning to acknowledge this troubled history, but the U.N. treaties governing drug policy haven’t been significantly updated since the 1960s.

5) So why is it that college keeps getting so much more expensive?

During the 2001 to 2011 time period, state funding per student fell $3,081 at research universities and $2,067 at nonresearch universities, a decline that was “in near lockstep with tuition increases,” according to the report. The result is a “dramatic shift” in who is paying for the cost of a public education.

6) Among those people who actually research guns, there is a clear consensus that more guns means more dead people.

7) You may have seen a study saying that beards are full of fecal bacteria.  Turns out that study (and the reporting on it) were full of crap.

8)Why most diets don’t actually work.

9) Nice column from Ross Douthat on liberal vs. conservative views on poverty and culture.

10) The Economist looks at the data to answer just how many people out there are gay.

11) Chait argues that HRC has set a trap for Republicans on the issue of immigration.

12) I don’t know that I would call something that happened without any human involvement GMO, but if you want to consider it the non-sexual combination of genes from very different species, nature beat us to it with sweet potatoes thousands of years ago.

13) Tina Fey’s awesomeness knows no bounds.

14) I saw there was a new poll showing 57% of Republicans would like Christianity to be our national religion “we don’t need any stinkin’ separation of church and state!” and I just knew it had to come from PPP.

15) Our bail policies are too punitive towards poor people (oh come on, everything in our criminal justice system is too punitive towards poor people).

16) So all those tax cuts in Kansas— now they can’t even afford to keep their schools open.  Good thing to know we’re trying to follow a similar model here.

17) It’s two years old, but John F just shared on FB.  The love you get from your parents has life-long benefits.  Love may not be all you need, but it sure helps.

18) It’s great to be exonerated for a crime you didn’t commit rather than keep rotting in prison, but there’s still plenty of hardship afterwards.

19) Nice essay from Dahlia Lithwick on how being laid up with a bad back and on pain meds affected her parenting and relationship with her children.

20) Loved this episode of 99% Invisible on “perfect security,” nice to see that Slate did too and added some key visuals.

Quick hits

1) David Goldberg, the husband of Sheryl “lean in” Sandberg, suffered an untimely death last week.  Nice article on his life and how he made it possible for Sandberg to lean in.

2) Private prisons are so wrong.  Among other things, they are incentivized to allow more human suffering to earn greater profits.  They can also sue states if they don’t stay full.

3) The Cleveland Indians have an awesome recycling program that runs on massive garbage disposals.

4) These photography tips are pretty cool; I’m going to have to try some.

5) This point doesn’t get old– inequality is a policy choice.  Nice column on the matter from Kristof.

6) Really enjoyed Ross Douthat’s essay on Pope Francis.

7) The head of the Federal Elections Commission has to sadly admit the FEC will be largely unable to prevent widespread campaign finance abuse in 2016.  Why?  The Republicans on the commission basically believe in widespread campaign finance abuse.

8) John Cassidy on the Republican field for president:

If your head is spinning, join the club. Nobody should be expected, or forced, to keep up with every detail of the G.O.P. primary, especially when, Lord help us, we still have more than eight months to go until the Iowa caucuses. At this stage, the important thing to remember is that there are really two spectacles taking place: a high-stakes horse race for the Republican nomination, and a circus held on the infield of the track. Although the events run concurrently, and are ostensibly geared toward the same end, they shouldn’t be confused with one another. One is a serious political contest. The other is a sideshow, designed to amuse the spectators, give the media something to cover, and further the ambitions, varied as they are, of the participants.

9) This article about an Ebola survivor who discovered later he had tons of the virus in his eyeball was fascinating.  Among other things, I had not known about “immune privilege” of that your eyeball benefits from being immune privileged.

10) It’s really kind of amazing that a local television station– local news generally being the province of fires, crime, and 15 minute weather reports– does a terrific job covering state and local politics.  Fortunately for me, it’s my very own local station.  The great work of Raleigh’s WRAL is recognized in CJR.

11) A future without chocolate?  Perish the thought.  But we’ll have to work at it and that’s what the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre is doing.

12) On the taboo of sharing how much money you make and why we should break it.  I won’t share mine, but it is public record if you really want to know.

13) Mitt Romney literally does not even understand what “mass incarceration” is.  Scary to think he could’ve been president.  And this is so pathetic.  Chait’s on it, so you know it’s a good read.

14) Cut the cord to your cable and think you are done with unwanted bundles?  Not so fast; bundling is coming to internet TV.

15) Congressional Republicans are no fans of making it easier for people to afford a college education.

16) Based on my experience, it always struck me that people would blame their infant’s fussiness on “teething” when there was really no particular reason to think that was the case (among other things, you never feel it all when your permanent teeth come in).  Looks like I’ve got science on my side.

17) Loved the new documentary on Kurt Cobain.  Damn if Kurt Cobain isn’t just the prototype of the tortured artist.  And I remember quite distinctly where I was when I found out he died (I was on a pre grad school visit to Ohio State and there were some guys driving around in a car yelling “Kurt Cobain is dead!”)  I’ve been listening to Nirvana a ton this week as a result (In Utero is playing as a type this post).  Also enjoyed showing my oldest the Smells Like Teen Spirit video which he had never seen.

18) I’ll leave you with this awesome, awesome Amy Schumer video on birth control.  It’s short and brilliant, so watch it already.

Chipotle, science, and corporate responsibility

I’m going to keep eating at Chippotle, even though they are now officially anti-science, and just feel conflicted about it.  Much like I keep eating industrially-produced, non-humanely raised meat and feel bad about it.  Anyway, I really enjoyed this Jesse Singal post on Chipotle’s new official anti-science stance:

In the most extreme cases, pronouncements that clash with the scientific consensus are met with angry Facebook posts and petitions and all the other accouterments of circa-2015 internet outrage. The questions are screamed in unison: How can these people ignore science? And how can they be so irresponsible as to encourage others to do the same?

And yet when the burrito giant Chipotle announced earlier this week that it will no longer be using any ingredients that contain or originate from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, there was barely a peep from the usual guardians of empiricism — despite the fact that more than 16 major international science organizations, including the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences, have concluded that there is no good reason to avoid consuming current GMOs. The burrito purveyor hasn’t suffered much backlash yet,but its new policy certainly represents the same sort of anti-science pandering that helps fuel the anti-vaccine and climate-change-denialism movements.  [emphasis mine]

Chipotle may argue that it’s simply giving its consumers what they want (I sent them an email via their contact form seeking comment on Monday and didn’t hear back), but that position only makes sense if one ignores the larger social context. In practice, the burrito giant’s “GMO-free” stance (explained here on its website — the chain notes that because of the ubiquity of GMOs in the U.S. food supply, customers who order soda or meat may still end up consuming GMO-sourced products) seems destined help cement false ideas about GMOs in the public imagination — most relevant, that they pose a health risk…

Part of the reason GMO hysteria arose in the first place is that most people barely know what GMOs are. Yoel Inbar, a psychologist at the University of Toronto who studies human judgement and decision-making, said consumers tend to perform just a bit better than a coin flip on simple true-false questions on the subject…

Most consumers aren’t going to carefully analyze the scientific consensus on a given issue — who has time for that? Rather, they use mental shortcuts, taking cues from people and institutions they trust. Chipotle has developed a reputation for corporate responsibility and making careful decisions about the ingredients on its menu, and Chipotle ditched GMOs — therefore, GMOs must be bad. Chipotle scores points, science loses. Surely other companies looking to capitalize off of a veneer of corporate do-goodery are keeping a close eye on this.

Yep.  Alas, Chipotle’s actions speak loudly.  What actual scientists who study and understand GMO’s are drowned out.  And if you think Republicans are crazy for denying climate change, but don’t want to eat GMO food out of health concerns, it’s definitely time to check your pro-science, evidence-based credentials.

Quick hits (part II)

1) David Frum suggests that how Republicans address Americans who would lose their insurance under an Obamacare repeal will be a key question in the 2016 election.

2) Donald Rumsfeld understands the Baltimore riots– or at least he understood riots in Iraq:

While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime. And I don’t think there’s anyone in any of those pictures … [who wouldn’t] accept it as part of the price of getting from a repressed regime to freedom.

3) A professor in Texas who decided to fail his entire class.  Unsurprisingly, the university wouldn’t let him.

4) Apparently some organic food still has mad-made chemicals.  Which, of course, is worth a big shoulder shrug.

5) A nice New Yorker post about the viral face/age recognition software.

6) Most people stop listening to music people by age 33.  I’ve added Muse since that age, but that’s about it.  I do listen to a selection of newer stuff via Pandora, but little of it really sticks with me.  (Though, for some reason, I totally love this).

7) Amy Davidson on Samuel Alito’s obsession with polygamy.

8) So, the American Psychological Association helped the Bush administration with torture.  So wrong.

9) Kids will read more if you let them choose books for themselves.  Of course, this presumes they will actually choose something (I’ve got a certain 9-year old in mind).  Actually really interesting survey results.  Kids really love funny.

10) John Cassidy on the disappointing near-silence from Republican presidential candidates on Baltimore.

11)  Just in case you were not aware, we are basically using our prisons as totally inappropriate and inadequate psychiatric hospitals.  And, no, that’s not a good thing for anybody.

12) David Brooks is really good at blaming poor people and not so good at looking at the context:

On Friday, Brooks published another fatuous piece about poverty. This time, naturally, the subject was Baltimore. Brooks tried to undercut the popular trope that funding poor communities like Baltimore will improve conditions. He writes:

The $15 trillion spent by the government over the past half-century has improved living standards and eased burdens for millions of poor people. But all that money and all those experiments have not integrated people who live in areas of concentrated poverty into the mainstream economy.

This passage is instructive for a couple of reasons. First, it illustrates Brooks’ tendency to say something true without offering anything resembling context. For instance, he notes that poor people haven’t been integrated into the mainstream economy but fails to ask why that is. We’ve tossed all this money at the problem, he seems to suggest, yet things aren’t better. How could that be? Perhaps it has something to do with history, with the residual effects of institutionalized racism and the array of structural problems that have plagued Baltimore and communities like it for decades. Dumping federal dollars into a city doesn’t erase these things.

13) A Vox interview on the history of racist policing in America.

14) Simply wearing a suit makes people think differently.  It also makes people treat you differently.

15) Great, great Connor Friedersdorf piece on how conservatives fail to take police abuse seriously.  It’s not that long– read the whole thing:

Meanwhile, most conservatives either ignored or were oblivious to the Baltimore police department’s stunning record of egregious, normalized brutality and civil rights abuses. It would be one thing if these conservative pundits acknowledged that police brutality and violations of the Constitutional rights of black people are epidemic in Baltimore but argued that other factors mostly explain Monday’s civil unrest. Agreeing on what caused the riots isn’t actually vital when taken in isolation.

What’s vexing actually predates the riots: It is movement conservatism’s general, longstanding blindness to massive rights violations by police. The myopia has somehow persisted even in an era when an hour on YouTube providesincontrovertible evidence of egregious brutality by scores of thuggish cops. Per usual, let us acknowledge the many U.S. police officers who serve their communities with honor, courage, empathy, and restraint. One needn’t disrespect them to see that bad policing is common. It is more than “a few bad apples.”

Quick hits (part I)

1) Republicans have even alienated Robert Samuelson for their true dedication to helping America’s richest citizens at all costs (in this case by trying to eliminate the estate tax).

2) I’ve always found fonts rather fascinating.  But I don’t think I’d ever be in the running for a job where I looked upon poorly for using Times New Roman.

3) Loved David Simon’s marxist- based analysis (no, he’s not a communist) analysis of the situation in Baltimore.

4) I’ve always much preferred Diet Coke (and especially Coke Zero) to Diet Pepsi.  Now I’ll have even more reason to as Pepsi has decided to pander to science deniers and remove aspartame from Diet Pepsi.

But the problem with appeasing customers at the expense of science is that it sets a poor precedent. And in this case it’s also unlikely to reverse Diet Pepsi’s waning appeal.

What Pepsi’s move will likely accomplish, more than anything else, is give credence to unfounded fears that aspartame is somehow more harmful or artificial than a lot of other sweeteners being used in products on supermarket shelves. That myth doesn’t appear to be anywhere close to dying.

5) Interestingly, we probably need to make it easier for kids to skip grades.

6) Nice summary of social science on the persistence of racism in America.

7) If you want to help the earthquake victims in Nepal, send money.  Not stuff and not yourself.  And that goes for pretty much any disaster.

8) Just one more unarmed teenager killed by police who thought he had a gun.  Make no mistake, this is absolutely a necessary consequence of America’s gun culture.  Yes, we need better policing, but the police in America are uniquely deathly afraid because there really are guns everywhere.

9) The smartest students (as judged by LSAT scores) are increasingly deciding against law school.  Good for them.  Especially because the job market is really, really tough for law school grads.

10) Sometimes the Onion headline nails it better than anybody:

Nation On Edge As Court Votes Whether To Legalize Gay Marriage Now Or In A Few Years

11) Wonkblog with 7 “facts” about healthy food that aren’t actually true (I’ve probably written about each of these at some point).  On a related note, a Vox post nails it with the headline, “The real side effect of a gluten-free diet: scientific illiteracy.”

12) And sticking with food, OSHA knows we should do more to keep workers safe in meat production (and really, we’re horrible at this), but just doesn’t have the budget for it.

13) The attempt to turn climate change into a moral issue and how that could change everything if it succeeds (and it’s got Pope Francis on its side).

14) Speaking of threats to the earth, how about that good old-fashioned problem of too many people (okay, guilty of the fact of helping create more than my fair share).

15) Good to know that I know far more about Premier League Football than UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who totally embarrassed himself on the matter.  For the record, I’m an Arsenal fan.

16) Jamelle Bouie’s post placing the problems in Baltimore into deep historical context.  Is excellent.  I’ve left it for last so that you actually read it.

Gender and GMO foods

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

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

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

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

gmo

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

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