Saturday, March 23, 2013

Expensive Study, Trivial Results

Yep, there's another politically biased study out of Harvard, this time by an Eric Fleegler, about guns.

Here's a chearleader's view from Boston's NPR station, which doesn't seem to be able to understand the statistics involved.

Here's the scant praise that comes for the study from Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis:

"In the end, Fleegler and colleagues provide no firm guidance and leave us with more questions than answers. Do the laws work, and if so, which ones? Should policymakers enact the entire package, or just some of the measures?" he said.
Professor John Lott had a more pungent analysis here

But the report is based on embarrassingly bad statistics that are rigged to get the result the authors wanted.
How would that work? I mean, it's a scientific study, how could it possibly be wrong?

In addition, we calculated household firearm ownership rates per state using the firearm suicide/total suicide ratio, which is the proportion of all suicides in a state caused by firearms.
Okay, so we're first going to figure out what percentage of gun ownership is by using the suicide rate (with guns) as a proxy.

Then we're going to calculate how much gun control laws reduce crime by comparing the gun violence rates (including suicides) between the various states.

And the result, of course, is that more gun ownership means more violence, because the numbers above can't come out any other way. If people are going to commit suicide anyway, easy access to buying guns means more of the suicides are accomplished with guns. That increases both the "household firearm rate" and the "overall firearm violence rate".


The study authors admitted that the difference only became significant if you compared the bottom quartile to the top quartile.

The study authors conveniently omitted Washington DC, which has extremely onerous gun laws and a sky-high gun violence rate.

The study authors conveniently did not omit Louisiana, which has lax gun laws and a sky-high gun violence rate.

(According to Power Line, dropping out louisiana from the study results in the remaining bottom 25% in gun laws being 12% safer than the top 25% in gun laws.) The study made no attempt to figure out how much violence there may have been that gun ownership prevented.

Cheat, much?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Good Research - And Marshmallows!

Okay, so sometimes the government funds research that actually is both interesting and not politically biased into nonsensicality. Here's one about Marshmallows!

No, really, this is good stuff. There's an old psychology test for children where you ask them if they want one marshmallow or two. (Two, always, duh!)

Then you tell them that you'll leave one marshmallow in the room with them, and if they wait to eat it until you get back, then you'll give them the second one. Some kids wait, some don't. The result - the kids that wait are the ones who are good at delaying gratification. The ones that don't, maybe have bad impulse control, because it's obvious that waiting for two is better than just getting one.

Sounds reasonable, right? Maybe even self-evident?

Well, there's a new study that points out something else that should have been obvious.

The kids aren't told how long they'll have to wait. The researcher said "a few minutes" or "a little while". Now, how often have you heard a parent use that phrase for something that you knew couldn't be done in less than an hour? I was always as specific as possible with my toddler, but almost every other parent I know uses fuzzy language like that for anything from literally a few minutes, to literally days.

So, in a very real sense, the children have no idea if the researcher is ever going to come back and give the children that second marshmallow. The guy may be gone for days. Maybe their parents will come to get them before he gets back.

The researchers went on to study related issues in adults.

“Our intuition is that when we are waiting for something, the longer we wait the closer and closer we get to that thing, which is what we see when we ask people about familiar things, like how long a movie will last,” Kable says. “But what we’ve found is that, if you don’t know anything about when the outcome will occur, the longer you wait the more you think you're getting farther and farther away from that outcome.”
Good stuff, well worth funding more of. We can wait for the results.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why Can't Morgan Whittaker Tell Black Men Apart?

A man named Morgan Whittaker claims on MSNBC that the actor playing the Devil in The Bible was intentionally made up to look like President Barack Obama. Even more hilarious, the article appears under Al Sharpton's PoliticsNation banner, where the standard picture of Al Sharpton looks like.... well, you tell me. Unfortunately, blogger is refusing to upload the JPG file I made, so you'll have to go look at the pictures yourself.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Exactly Backward, Again...

Dave Reed at apparently can't get his head around the idea of citizens owning guns as a defense, and what effect that might have on crime.

"Protection" is Now Main Reason For Gun Ownership, Despite Dramatic Drop in Crime Rates

A recent Pew poll [found here] has found that the number one reason for gun ownership is that of protection. This differs from 1999, when hunting was the most common explanation for possession of firearms. Despite this change, crime has decreased across the country as a whole during the same period. Taking into account these seemingly contradictory, facts, the changing climate of gun-ownership must surely be influenced by other factors.

Okay, so if I buy a gun for self protection, and then criminals leave me alone, that's contradictory, and you think you have to go find an explanation other than "protection"?

Sigh. Maybe if you found some "diverse" friends, including maybe someone who owns a gun, he can explain it to you.

I was checking the Pew paper to see whether a bunch of new people had bought guns, or if gun owners have just changed their public rationale. The odd thing is, the Pew paper doesn't discuss the change in ownership, either numerically or as percentage of the public. There are other odd things about the Pew's presentation of the results - some items are compared to 1993, others to 1999. Why do you suppose that is? I would expect that it results from the political bias of the Pew.

I did find some other, pretty nonspecific graphs From what I can tell, the total percentage is roughly the same, so the number of gun owners has gone up by roughly 20-25% over the last 14 years.

From a guess, it looks to me like about 6-8 million citizens changed their reason from hunting to protection, and another 10-12 million citizens bought guns for protection, either from criminals or from some theoretical future government.

While I was looking for the mysteriously omitted missing information, I found this article by John Lott over at Imprimis:

In January 2002, a shooting left three dead at the Appalachian Law School in Virginia. The event made international headlines and produced more calls for gun control. Yet one critical fact was missing from virtually all the news coverage: The attack was stopped by two students who had guns in their cars.
Interesting stuff. I also found an article at Mother Jones on all the mass and spree killers in the last 20 years. Did a quick statistical analysis on what's going on - looks like 2000-2003, under George Bush, were anomalously low. Remember 9/11? Major drop in wackos - probably largely due to a major increase in vigilance among the populace. Take out that drop, and the average is pretty flat at 3 per year.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What They Won't Tell You about Pew

Interesting new data from the new Pew study.

You'll see lots of talking heads pick this up, but there are a lot of truths they won't say.

Here's How they won't phrase it -

  • On average, men put in more hours than women. When the father is the sole breadwinner, he puts in 11 more hours than his spouse or partner.
  • Since 1965, men have more than doubled their housework, while women have about halved theirs.
  • Men do 64% of the work outside the house, while women do 64% of the household chores.

Take a look at the details. Between work, chores and child care, men work more total hours on average than women (54 vs 53 hours).

Among two-earner families, the men do 5 hours more work, 1 hour less chores, and the same number of hours of child care as men in the average family. The women do 10 hours more work, 2 hours less chores and 2 hours less child care than women in the average family. So, the hours at work is the factor that puts the women in two-earner families with a slight edge over the men (59 vs 58 hours).

Of course, none of this means anything anyway, because if you, me and Bill Gates are standing in a room, on average we're billionaires. I'd love to see the median figures - whatever the median of a three-dimensional graph would be.

Dang, I probably knew that once back in college calculus-based stats. If I had to make it up, I'd probably base my method on the physics center of gravity of the whole mess.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Obesity, Lesbians, Federal Money, Bias and Blindness

Okay, so it's all over the internet that the Federal government decided to fund a multimillion dollar study to find out why lesbians are fat. That's one way to put it.

The Atlantic writes a couple more:

All of which is to say, these headlines would have been accurate as the inverse: "Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why straight men are fat." Or: "Obama administration spends $1.5 million to figure out why gay men have rocking bodies." Or perhaps: "America is overweight (except for gay men?) and scientists are trying to determine why."

Which is not quite true, though. Read this quote from one of the researchers, which appeared in a CNS news piece:

“It will be impossible to develop evidence-based preventive interventions unless we first answer basic questions about causal pathways, as we plan to do,” they said. “Our study has high potential for public health impact not only for sexual minorities but also for heterosexuals, as we seek to uncover how processes of gender socialization may exacerbate obesity risk in both sexual minority females and heterosexual males.”

So, you can see that it is not a study to see why lesbians are fat at all. It is a study to see how processes of gender socialization make lesbians fat.

That's just sad. A total blindness on the part of the researchers. Heck, even a caller on the Rush Limbaugh show can come up with an obvious, sensitive, scientific and rational explanation that has nothing to do with "processes of gender socialization".

The lesbian woman doesn't have to deal with a visual, shallow man. She just has to please her partner, and usually women are less concerned with physical attributes and more concerned with ... their personality and so forth. And the homosexual man, he has to please a man, who is visual and shallow. Therefore, if a woman doesn't want to give up all her cookies and it's okay with her partner, no big deal, okay?

I've tidied up the quote out of habit, but the "likes" and "you knows" are there in the Limbaugh transcript if you really need them.

So, let's pretend for a moment we were actual scientists, trying to identify the possible factors that lead to 75% of lesbians being obese, as compared with 50% of heterosexual American women. Let's list the theories, shall we?

  • Whatever brain and body chemistry causes homosexuality in women also predisposes them to obesity. (The "Made That Way" Theory)
  • Their lovers' acceptance of bodily variation reduces the stigma associated with obesity in homosexual women, thus allowing more of it. (The "Less Stick" Theory)
  • Since women have a greater acceptance of bodily variation, some obese heterosexual women may choose to become adaptive homosexuals. (The "More Carrot" Theory)
Okay, so there's a few obvious theories that fit the observed facts and can be intuited by anyone possessing even a rudimentary understanding of sociology, biology, and psychology. Notice, none of those theories require "processes of gender socialization" in order to apply. In fact, I can't figure out what the so-called scientists that produced this report might even mean. Let's pretend they're not total wackos, and make up another theory or two, hey?
  • Some traumatic events that cause women to become homosexual predispose those women to (over)eating disorders. (The "Trauma Implant" Theory)
  • Some homosexual women unconsciously overeat in order to become less attractive to men. (The "Guys are Icky" Theory)
  • Gender socialization in heterosexual women gives them a gender-identity-based ability to resist obesity. (The "Better To Be A Babe" Theory)
Those are reasonable ideas, and not particularly controversial in the abstract and on the margin. The percentage of lesbians who have experienced sexual trauma is extremely high, at least according to the few dozen that I've had intimate conversations with. (I used to live and hang out near Santa Cruz and Monterey, California.)

But, here's the question: If you studied those last three theories, and found them to be true, what would the resulting societal prescription look like? Nothing that requires theories of how "processes of gender socialization" cause the problem in lesbians, right? The only gender socialization in any of those theories is the one that draws heterosexual women to emulate Barbies.

If this study was designed or overseen by the person that wrote that revealing quote, and if the study authors really see "gender socialization" as the likely source of the critical difference that needs to be studied, then the study isn't science, it's some kind of pseudo-scientific social agitation, having nothing to do with obesity at all. They have their eyes closed to several obvious factors that each is an order of magnitude more significant than anything having to do with gender socialization.

Dang, I'm starting to type that phrase without quotes...

It's too bad, because an actual study on the reason for the difference might be interesting and worthwhile. Don't expect anything rational or insightful out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass, though. Sigh.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Feminists and their Stereotypes

Marlo Thomas, posting over at Huffington about "Guys Who Get it", clearly doesn't get it herself.

Here's a riddle:

A trucker is sitting in a bar next to a feminist. They've both had a lot to drink and they're arguing. The feminist says women have been oppressed for centuries -- the trucker says they haven't. The feminist says women deserve equal pay -- the trucker says they don't. The feminist says a woman should be president -- the trucker just laughs. They simply don't see eye to eye.

What's the one thing the trucker and the feminist have in common?

They're both men.

Um, no, neither "person" in that riddle is a man, Marlo. They are both stereotypes out of the eighties and seventies, respectively, and boring stereotypes at that. Here's a more realistic version, one that also has the advantage of being arguably funny:

A feminist and a trawler captain are in a bar, and the feminist has had too much to drink. The feminist is getting loud, trying to impress the captain, and says, "Women have been oppressed for centuries!"

The captain looks at him, obviously annoyed by the posturing, and scowls.

"Ain't now."

"I believe in equal pay for equal work!" proclaims the feminist.

The captain, thinking about the hardy crew of the trawler, looks the feminist up and down, lingering only briefly on the feminist's untoned arms.

The captain shrugs. "You'd starve."

Oblivious, the feminist continues his conversation with himself. "I think a woman should be president."

The trawler captain picks up her mug, drains it, and sets it back down, gets up and saunters toward the door. At the last moment before the captain hits the door, she gives the feminist an impish grin over her shoulder.

"I like Palin, too."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Capital Punishment for Educational Conglomerates

Forbes reported in January that a major for-profit educational conglomerate called ATI Enterprises was quietly liquidating itself rather than commit sepukku in bankruptcy court:
ATI, based in Texas, started as a small operation 50 years ago that eventually turned into a major money maker for the entrepreneurs that grew it to as many as 23 schools across five states, including seven in Texas. Despite the money and brainpower put into the school, in November the company decided to close all its schools under the ATI brand following a devastating two-year litany of bad press and regulatory scrutiny.

Why not declare Chapter 11 reorganization? There's a little problem of eligibility for federal student loans under 20 USC 1094:

1094(a) Required for programs of assistance; contents

The agreement shall condition the initial and continuing eligibility of an institution to participate in a program upon compliance with the following requirements:


(3) The institution will establish and maintain such administrative and fiscal procedures and records as may be necessary to ensure proper and efficient administration of funds received from the Secretary or from students

(4) The institution will comply with the provisions of subsection (c) of this section and the regulations prescribed under that subsection, relating to fiscal eligibility.

So the lenders are out of luck, because if ATI declares bankruptcy like a normal business, its major source of funding its sales dries up. Of course, if the government notices that ATI's liquidating assets, that would likely incur the same capital punishment, unless it has sufficient internal controls to wall off the unit's it's still operating.

So, why all the scrutiny that brought down ATI's other units? A 2012 Senate report had this to say:

A 2-year investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions demonstrated that Federal taxpayers are investing billions of dollars a year, $32 billion in the most recent year, in companies that operate for-profit colleges. Yet, more than half of the students who enrolled in in [sic] those colleges in 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma within a median of 4 months.

Okay, but you can't earn a real diploma in 4 months full time. How much of that $32 billion was for other half of the students - the ones who didn't wash out in the first 120 days? If $30 billion is for the ones who worked their way through it, and $2 billion for the washouts, then it might be money well spent. On the other hand, if it's $18B and $14B, then clearly the government needs to recalibrate the rules to pay for performance. Considering that the default rate from all for-profit students (see appendix 16-17 of the Senate report) is around 17-19%, that suggests that about $6B out of the $32B is at risk.

I haven't finished perusing the appendixes to see what the equivalent numbers are for public institutions. I would expect that there are subdivisions of most public institutions that have a worse record for student payback, but I'm sure public institutions hide that by reporting the university as a whole or by college, not by degree program.

Hopefully, Congress will force a little more accountability on both types of institution.