Quick hits (part II)

1) Dana Goldstein reviews a new book on the for-profit college scam.

2) Costs/benefit-wise, guns in the home–especially due to dramatically heightened suicide risk– fail miserably.

3) Love a good, negative review, like the one of the new book Convergence arguing that everything is all coming together:

Watson’s apparent mastery of the ingredients and recipes of all the sciences might stagger a general reader used to the works of mortals. What will stagger the knowledgeable is the confidence with which he presents nonsense.

4) When it comes to analyzing college basketball, I love Ken Pomeroy.  Slate This article on how the metrics the NCAA uses grossly discriminate against mid-major teams is really good.

5) Sticking with college sports… all the TV money flowing in for football and basketball means that coaches of even the lowliest sports teams now well out-earn full professors.

6) Liberals are turning to MSNBC in droves.  I’d prefer the NYT, but I’ll take political engagement with cable news channels with no political engagement.

7) How intellectual humility can make you a better person.  I think the constant rejection of trying to get articles published probably serves academics well in this regard.

8) Impossible Foods Impossible Burger is about to massively scale up.  I sure do hope this is the  beginning of the end of meat.

9) Democrats are divided on how to approach Gorsuch.  Here’s an idea– it’s Merrick Garland’s seat.

10) A looming future of antibiotic resistance?  Maybe.  But I’m actually an optimist on what scientists will be able to accomplish on this.

11) Kevin Drum is right that fiscal conservatives should love national healthcare.  The problem is, more than they like saving money, they hate giving government benefits to people they think do not deserve them.  Drum  with the key reason national health care saves money:

It’s ironic, but it turns out that central governments are a lot better at keeping a lid on health care costs than the private sector. The reason is taxes. National health care is paid for out of tax revenue, and the public pressure to keep taxes low is so strong that it universally translates into strong government pressure to keep health care costs low. By contrast, the private sector is so splintered that no corporation has the leverage to demand significantly lower costs. Besides, if health care costs go up, corporations can make up for it by keeping cash salaries low. This is part of the reason that median incomes have grown so slowly over the past 15 years. Corporations simply don’t care enough about high health care costs to really do anything about it.

12) Why do comedians laugh at their own jokes?

13) Chait with a great piece on Ryan, Trump, health care, and taxes:

Liberals have been warning for years that the “alternative” Republican plan that could actually pass Congress was a mirage. There was no plan that could be both acceptable to conservative anti-government ideology and to the broader public. The dilemma Republicans find themselves in now — a plan that subsidizes too little coverage to be acceptable to vulnerable members, and too much coverage for the party’s right wing — has always been unavoidable. Whoever had to write the first version of the Republican health-care bill that would have to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and pass both chambers was given a task with impossible parameters. Ryan is being turned into the fall guy for eight years of lies that the entire Republican party, himself included, told the country and itself.

However, Ryan does appear to be the mastermind behind the legislative sequence Trump has agreed to. The plan is rooted in Ryan’s obsessive quest to pass a huge tax cut for the rich that will be permanent. That strategy requires a series of difficult steps, which — if carried out correctly at every turn — will ultimately culminate in a massive tax cut that can be scored by the Congressional Budget Office as revenue-neutral after ten years, and thus avoid the arcane budgetary requirement that caused the Bush tax cuts to expire automatically after a decade. This intricate calculation, based on complying with the Senate’s budget rules, is the linchpin of the entire Republican legislative strategy.


14) Sometimes it really takes just a little bit of money to get a college student over the finishing line.  Good to see that some colleges realize what a good investment this is.

15) Unlike the rest of Europe, anti-immigrant, right-wing parties are making little headway in Spain.  Read the NPR story to find out why.

16) A student recently shared this with me– I missed it last year.  How Denmark treats their prisoners well and it is a win for everybody:

Still, the value of Denmark’s example to a reform-minded public lies not in replicating its particular strategies or techniques but in adopting its broader ethos — one that grants prisoners dignity and allows room for error.

This is a lesson that the United States needs to learn. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, yet we have little to show for either the money invested or the lives lost to this system. U.S. prisoners wear anonymous facility garb, eat mass produced food in assembly cafeteria lines, and spend hours on end in tiny, bleak cement cells. As President Obama noted this past week, as many as 100,000 prisoners across the United States are housed in solitary confinement. Hundreds of these prisoners are released directly to the streets every year, often with dangerous consequences: two went on shooting rampages upon release in 2013…

Officials say a zero tolerance policy is the only way to ensure safety in a facility full of felons. But in reality, such policies do little. Prisoners use drugs, escape and recidivate. In spite of invasive search routines for prisoners and visitors alike, prisons across the United States report problems with contraband from drugs to cellphones to prison-made knives. Even though U.S. prisoners are not permitted to have knives or prepare their own food for safety reasons, in 2011 the Supreme Court found that one California prisoner died unnecessarily every week — lives lost not to violence, but to medical negligence. And when a prisoner escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in New York in June 2015, more than 60 prisoners complained of a backlash of abusive beatings. Danish prison officials say that their prisoners act out less because they are treated humanely; they, too, are allowed to make mistakes. [emphasis mine]

17) Should have had this last week.  No, smartphones are not luxury items.  Giving up your Iphone does not exactly save you enough to buy health insurance.  Only out-of-touch Republican legislators seem to think so.

18) Dahlia Lithwick on how Trump’s own words were a key in knocking down travel ban 2.o.

19) William Ayers on political conflict on campus:

20) Speaking of which, NC State students not particularly big fans of free speech:

21) Last, and certainly not least, the latest research strongly suggests that Voter ID laws do not reduce turnout.  If you are a liberal, you were probably too ready to believe the earlier research that they do.  To be clear, I still strongly oppose Voter ID laws because they are a solution to a problem that does not exist and do disproportionately impact minorities and young people.  Just because they are not as effective at demobilization as their Republican sponsors hoped, does not make them okay.



Okay, actually, your photo of the day.  But how could I resist that title (yes, like most adult males, I still have an immature teenager lurking within).  Also, this is a cool photo, but the accompanying NYT article about what scientists have learned about Blue-footed Boobies has lots of fascinating details (e.g., the more egalitarian the parenting pair, the more successful they are at reproducing) and is well worth your time.

Blue-footed boobies on the Galápagos archipelago in Ecuador. The color of their feet is an important factor in mating. Credit The Asahi Shimbun Premium, via Getty Images



Science? We don’t need no stinkin’ science.

Or, so says the full-on climate denier, Scott Pruitt, now heading the EPA:

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Thursday that carbon dioxide was not a primary contributor to global warming, a statement at odds with the established scientific consensus on climate change.

Asked his views on the role of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gas produced by burning fossil fuels, in increasing global warming, Mr. Pruitt said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so, no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

“But we don’t know that yet,” he added. “We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

Mr. Pruitt’s statement contradicts decades of research and analysis by international scientific institutions and federal agencies, including the E.P.A. His remarks on Thursday, which were more categorical than similar testimony before the Senate, may also put him in conflict with laws and regulations that the E.P.A. is charged with enforcing.

But, hey, on the bright side, in undoing pesky clean air and clean water regulations, Pruitt will surely Make America Great Again.  Science is for losers.  Sad.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Love this Wired feature on the challenges facing the NYT.  I love the idea of it re-inventing itself as a premium subscriber service like HBO and Netflix.  For the record, I think NYT, HBO, and Netflix are all terrific and worth paying for.  (Though, “The Young Pope” please!)

2) Nick Kristoff on a stark, ignored, reality: husbands (and a hell of a lot of other things) are far more dangerous than terrorists.

3) John Oliver decide to take the message to Trump where he’ll see it– cable news ads.

4) I don’t doubt that those who have fought to remove smoking from public gathering places have overstated the health benefits of doing so, as argued in this extreme example of a #slatepitch.  That said, I find it amusing that the piece does not even address the fact that most of us non-smokers (i.e., most of us Americans) strongly prefer to not be around noxious vapors fouling our air.

5) Interesting Op-Ed– what modern day Muslims should learn from Jesus.

6) Why is Trump so obsessed with apologies?  Like so much else, it’s a simple dominance display for him:

For Trump, apologies aren’t about resolving conflict or fostering relationships or even setting the record straight. Like so much of what he does, they are about besting someone. Trump expresses his displeasure at how he has been treated; the offending party feels compelled to make amends. An apology that requires threats or twitter trolls to extract only highlights Trump’s superior strength all the more. Your criticisms of Trump may not have been wrong. You may not feel one bit bad about them. You may loathe and disdain him even more after apologizing. What matters to him is that you have had to publicly ask for his forgiveness. Which proves you are a total loser.

7) Zack Beauchamp takes a deep-dive into the utterly delusional world of “counter-jihadism” that is so influential with Trump’s own delusional worldview.

8) NYT pulling no punches in the lede on Pruitt’s confirmation.

The Senate on Friday confirmed Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, putting a seasoned legal opponent of the agency at the helm of President Trump’s efforts to dismantle major regulations on climate change and clean water — and to cut the size and authority of the government’s environmental enforcer.

9) Advice to conservative college students from a formerly conservative professor.

10) Drum with more evidence for the lead-crime link.

11) Amanda Taub with a good piece on “the deep state” you’ve likely been hearing much about.

12) I got more enjoyment out of “why liberals are wrong about Trump” than anything I read all week.  Just trust me and click the link.  Seriously.

13) Peter Beinart on how much of the anti-Trump right has made peace with Trump:

It’s not deranged to worry that Trump may undermine liberal democracy. It’s deranged to think that leftist hyperbole constitutes the greater threat. Unfortunately, that form of Trump Derangement Syndrome is alive and well at National Review. And it helps explain why Republicans across Washington are enabling Trump’s assault on the institutions designed to restrain his power and uphold the rule of law.

It is inconvenient for National Review that the individual in government who now most threatens the principles it holds dear is not a liberal, but a president that most conservatives support. But evading that reality doesn’t make it any less true.

14) Raising the price of a $575 life-saving drug to $4500.  So wrong.  Pharmaceutical companies make life-saving drugs.  Many pharmaceutical companies are also greedy and evil while they’re at it.  Talk about preying upon human suffering.

15) John Cassidy on Republican plans to cut Medicaid:

Still, the Republican Party’s internal machinations are a secondary matter. The key point is that G.O.P. leaders are intent on ripping up a successful and affordable reform that helped fill a gaping hole in the social safety net. In the process, they will endanger the health of a lot of Americans who don’t have the resources to protect themselves and their families. And that’s shameful.

16) Why yes, there are some bad dudes when it comes to immigration.  Unfortunately, it seems that some of these bad dudes are actually working for ICE.

17) More evidence for modern conservatism as white tribal politics.

18) I know you’ll be shocked to see evidence of how Trump tried to keep Black families out of his properties.

19) Terrific piece in Vox looking at (and speculating upon) the mating history of humans and neanderthals.  This particular bit was new to me:

Siepel has also found evidence of an even earlier mating than those that took place around 50,000 years ago. In the fully sequenced Neanderthal genome published in 2014, he found some human genes dating back to 100,000 years ago. “Instead of finding Neanderthal segments in modern human genomes, we identified modern, human-like segments in one of the Neanderthal genome,” he says.

It goes to show these matings weren’t a one-time event in our history. (And it adds a wrinkle to the common story that humans left Africa around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Human DNA found its way into Neanderthals 100,000 years ago, so there must have been an earlier human incursion into Europe. Those humans, though, did not survive.)

20) Democrats are now more inclined to embrace conspiracy theories.  Why?  Because conspiracy theories are for losers.

21) Doctors finally admit that lifestyle and exercise– not drugs– are the best treatment for lower back pain.  I found this bit of particular interest:

Obesity, being overweight, smoking, depression, and anxiety have all been linked with lower back pain. But the cause is usually more complicated. “Our best understanding of low back pain is that it is a complex, biopsychosocial condition — meaning that biological aspects like structural or anatomical causes play some role, but psychological and social factors also play a big role,” said Chou, who wrote a big evidence review that helped inform the new ACP guideline.

For example, in patients who have nearly identical results from an imaging test like an MRI, those who are depressed or unsatisfied with their jobs tend to have worse back pain than people who aren’t, Chou said. Partly for this reason, doctors don’t generally recommend doing MRIs for acute episodes of low back pain, since they can lead to overtreatment — like surgery — that also won’t improve health outcomes.

As for the modestly annoying lower-back pain I began experiencing about 10 years ago… I started sleeping with a pillow under my hips (I sleep on my stomach) and it’s never been anything but a very occasional annoyance since.

22) Catherine Rampell on Republicans plans to completely gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  It really is truly breathtaking how much Republicans are totally willing to screw over the little guy.  There’s plenty of areas where I just disagree with Republicans, and I get that, but I really do not understand how people justify these types of positions.

23) Drum’s quasi fact-checking of Trump’s disaster press conference is so entertaining.  My favorite part:

I mean, I watch CNN, it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred. I don’t watch it any more…Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening. You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit…Now, I will say this. I watch it. I see it. I’m amazed by it.

Fact-check: Schrödinger’s cat. Trump both watches and doesn’t watch CNN.

24) Yeah, the modern research university really is built off the exploitation of adjuncts.   But that’s because far too many people are willing to work for $3-4000 per class in the hopes that it will lead to somethhing good and permanent when it almost never, ever does.  Hope springs eternal…  And, yes, universities need to stop producing so many more PhD’s than there are decent jobs.  Damn, perverse incentives.

25) Great Vox conversation with Gary Kasparov on Putin and Trump.

Map of the day

I love birds and I love cool maps, so this animated gif (soft g, damnit) of bird migrations is right in my sweet spot.

animated map of bird species migrating in western hemisphere

Curiosity saved the liberal?

Let’s stick with the liberals and conservatives are different theme.  Dan Kahan (the man behind your partisanship even makes you bad at math, research) has some really interesting new research that presents– to some degree– a way out of this.  Scientific curiosity.  Nice summary in the Atlantic:

Kahan and his collaborators wanted to see whether this very human tendency to seek out facts that conform with our reasoning and identities—staying glued to our red and blue feeds—can ever be tamped down.

They found that it could, as long as you possess an odd trait called “science curiosity.” This is not, it turns out, the same as merely being good at science, or understanding it. Science curiosity, as Kahan measured it, describes people who are intrigued by surprising information and scientific discoveries. In the study, the science-curious spent longer watching a science documentary and were more interested in reading science news. Meanwhile, those who simply understood science weren’t as engaged with the videos. They weren’t into “self-motivated consumption of science information for its own sake,” they write.

Typically, being confronted with evidence only makes people cling more firmly to their beliefs on controversial topics like gun control, climate change, or vaccine safety. Similarly, in this study, Kahan found that science-literate conservatives were more likely to dispute humans’ role in global warming, while science-literate liberals were much more likely to acknowledge it. (People who didn’t know much about science were equally likely to agree and disagree, regardless of party.)

“We always observed this depressing pattern: The members of the public most able to make sense of scientific evidence are in fact the most polarized,” Kahan said in a statement.

But, surprisingly, the science-curious among them didn’t harbor the same knee-jerk biases. They were more likely than the non-curious to read a news story that clashed with their political affiliation. The liberals, for example, opted to read a newspaper article headlined, “Scientists Report Surprising Evidence: Ice Increasing in Antarctic, Not Currently Contributing To Sea-Level Rise.” They craved novelty, even when they knew they wouldn’t agree with it.

“For them, surprising pieces of evidence are bright, shiny objects—they can’t help but grab at them,” Kahan said.

And though the conservative, science-curious participants still thought global warming and fracking were less of a big deal than their liberal counterparts, the more science-curious they were, the more of a risk they considered it. The two party lines ran in parallel, rather than toward opposite poles:

In other words, curiosity seems to be the pin that bursts our partisan bubbles, allowing new and sometimes uncomfortable information to trickle in. Nothing else works like curiosity does, the authors point out—not being reflective, or good at math, or even well-educated.

Instead, they write, it’s “individuals who have an appetite to be surprised by scientific information—who find it pleasurable to discover that the world does not work as they expected … [who] expose themselves more readily to information that defies their expectations.”[emphasis mine]


Cool!  I think I’ve pretty well-established that I’m “scientific curious” and I know many of you are as well.  And I love that analogy– to me, the shiny new thing is indeed something that pushes against what I already believe/know (from a respected source, of course).  There’s not a lot of interest in one more article telling me that single-payer health plans are a good idea.

Both this and the Vox article I link below, however, suggest that this is some sort of “solution” to the cognitive biases behind partisan polarization.  Unfortunately, until you can demonstrate to me that we can fundamentally change persons’ baseline levels of scientific curiosity, hard to see how that’s actually the case.

Also, check out the more thorough summary of Kahan’s work at Vox (and you know you’re curious to know more– right?).


Photo of the day

Very cool gallery of space photos from Wired:

This image shows the Calabash Nebula transforming from a red giant into a planetary nebula, as it blows outer layers of dust and gas into space at close to 620,000 miles per hour. Calabash is also known as the Rotten Egg Nebula, because of its high sulphur contents.ESA

%d bloggers like this: