Monday, January 31, 2011

Statistical blog misreads a chart

Phil Price writes:
I think it's rare to see an outright lie, especially about a really major issue. We had a doozy yesterday, when Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann presented a graphic that attributed the 2009 federal budget to the Obama administration. Oddly, most of the other facts and figures she presented were correct, ...
I don't know who Phil Price is. I read the blog because all the regular entries are written by an expert statistician with useful insights. His opinions on charts is excellent. Price is misreading the graph and putting out a DailyKos style partisan political attack.

The graphic does not attribute the 2009 federal budget to the Obama. As Price later admits, it is common knowledge that many budget decisions are made far in advance. The chart merely shows the annual deficits, and labels them with the administrations in which the deficits occurred.

Bachmann's point is to show that the deficits have gotten much worse in the last two years, and she is correct.

By comparison, I have shown above a chart of USA casualties in Afghanistan. As you can see, it is going up just like the deficit! It would be completely fair and accurate to label the last two years as being during the Obama administration, even tho some of the deaths are attributable to continuing policies that begun under Bush.

Update: Price's latest response is to say:
The budget deficit in any given year is almost entirely determined by votes that took place several months earlier.
Yes, of course budgets are based on advance planning. Everybody knows that. But the Bachmann chart shows actual deficits, not the proposed budget deficits. Price is wrong.

Update: A reader sends these definitions of lying. I am not accusing Price of lying because it is not clear that he understands the difference between a proposed deficit and an actual deficit, and a fiscal year and a calendar year. It also is not clear that he understands that people often state facts without attributing blame, and that making a statement about someone's intentions requires some mindreading. I just point out that Price is wrong because he attributes to Bachmann something that she did say, that she did not imply, and that is not a part of her message.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

These should be rights, not crimes

In California and some other states, there are procedures for kids to attend public schools outside their home school districts. It is called public school choice, and it ought to be a constitutional right. Apparently it is a crime in Ohio:
An Akron woman was sentenced to 10 days in the Summit County Jail, placed on three years of probation and ordered to perform community service after being convicted of falsifying residency records so that her two children could attend Copley-Fairlawn schools. ...

After seven hours of deliberations, a jury convicted her late Saturday of two counts of tampering with records.

While her two girls were registered as living with her father in Copley Township within the Copley school district, prosecutors maintained that they actually were living with Williams-Bolar on Hartford Avenue in Akron, in subsidized housing provided by the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority. ...

On the tampering conviction, Cosgrove gave Williams-Bolar the maximum prison sentence — five years — for each of the two charges, with the sentences to run concurrently.
I doubt that the jury was told that the mom could get ten years in prison for sending her kids to a better school.

Maybe the mom should be prosecuted for having two kids she cannot support, cutting their dad out of their lives, and living off welfare, but school choice should be a right, not a crime.

In nearly all states it is legal to record govt agents who are threatening your liberty. This ought to be a constitutional right also. But apparently it is a crime with a 5-year prison term in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland:
Ms. Moore, whose trial is scheduled for Feb. 7 in Cook County Criminal Court, is accused of using her Blackberry to record two Internal Affairs investigators who spoke to her inside Police Headquarters while she filed a sexual harassment complaint last August against another police officer. Mr. Drew was charged with using a digital recorder to capture his Dec. 2, 2009, arrest for selling art without a permit on North State Street in the Loop. Mr. Drew said his trial date was April 4.

Both cases illustrate the increasingly busy and confusing intersection of technology and the law, public space and private.
No, this is not confusing. There are probably 100M Americans who have these devices and who see nothing wrong with recording cops.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Do not argue with physicians

A NY Times op-ed complains that some people are not persuaded by this:
The evidence against the original article and its author, a British medical researcher named Andrew Wakefield, is damning. Among other things, he is said to have received payment for his research from a lawyer involved in a suit against a vaccine manufacturer; in response, Britain’s General Medical Council struck him from the medical register last May.
I am not either, for reasons noted here. I don't know why Wakefield receiving payment would be so persuasive. The leading vaccine advocates at the CDC like Paul Offit have received millions from the vaccine industry. Silencing Wakefield just suggests that knowledge is being suppressed. When people claim to be experts and give fallacious arguments like this, then I wonder whether they have any good arguments.

The paper printed several response letters, including this:
It always astounds me that these same individuals don’t argue with architects regarding building materials, or airline pilots on how to fly a plane or with doctors on most other aspects of medical care, but they feel that they know best when it comes to disease prevention.
Ben Z. Katz
It astounds me whenever a physician wants to argue with me about anything. His job is to advise the patient so that he can make his own medical decisions. If he is arguing, then he has abandoned his proper role as a physician.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Completely inaccurate facts

AP reports:
Taco Bell quickly denied the accusation. "The lawsuit is bogus and filled with completely inaccurate facts," Taco Bell President Creed said in an interview.

Most fast-food customers, [a fast food litigator] said, realize taco meat has other ingredients besides beef.
Okay, I feel better now. That denial is a good one. When I goto more authentic Mexican restaurants, they serve tongue and other oddities.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chasing that wasted college education

Here is the best explanation of what is wrong with Tiger mom Amy Chua and her theory about why Chinese moms are superior:
Here's the question: what is the point of all this? Making the kids play violin, of being an A student, all the discipline, all of this? Why is she working her kids so hard? You know the answer: college.

She is raising future college students.

Oh, I know that these things will make them better people in the long run, but silently agree that her singular purpose is to get the kids into college. Afterwards she'll want other things for them, sure, but for 18 years she has exactly one goal for them: early decision.
Yes, only a horrible mom would be so preoccupied with college admissions. Maybe she should be concerned that most kids do not learn much in college anyway:
The study of more than 2,300 undergraduates found 45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.

One problem is that students just aren't asked to do much, according to findings in a new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses." Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester, and one-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading per week.
You can find other opinions on Chua here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reading smiles

Paula Niedenthal says that there are four kinds of smiles: playful, social, power, and fake.
Then Dr. Niedenthal and her colleagues asked the students to place a pencil between their lips. This simple action engaged muscles that could otherwise produce a smile. Unable to mimic the faces they saw, the students had a much harder time telling which smiles were real and which were fake.
I am skeptical about someone with a name like Dr. Neanderthal, but she seems to have shown that putting a pencil in your mouth inhibits mindreading abilities.

Phone company surprise bills

Randall Stross writes:
To be precise, there’s a 1-in-25 chance during a 12-month period of getting a cellphone bill that is $100 higher than expected, based on experiences of respondents in a recent Consumer Reports survey. About one in five reported a significantly higher cellphone bill, of some amount, that was not anticipated.

Last October, the Federal Communications Commission proposed requiring wireless carriers to alert consumers when they’re about to reach their plans’ limits — in call minutes, text messages or data use — so they won’t be shocked at billing time. It conducted its own survey of cellphone users last spring and found that 17 percent had experienced a sudden increase in their bill at some point. That’s 30 million people, the F.C.C. says. ...

Mr. Guttman-McCabe says the F.C.C.’s alerts requirement would cost “tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars to implement.”
That's ridiculous. I prefer a prepaid phone.

Consumers should not be legally liable for unexpected bills. Usually the law says that people are only responsible for the services for which they have agreed. My guess is that the phone companies are actually spending hundreds of millions of dollars to trick consumers into misunderstanding their contracts, and into keeping them from knowing their liabilities. Better regulation would save a lot of money.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chinese domination

If I read the economic news once every ten years, I would have learned this:

1960: USA had a missile gap, so we built a military-industrial complex.
1970: Nixon bragged that we built the world's largest shopping center.
1980: USSR was the economic equal of the USA.
1990: Japan was the economic equal of the USA.
2000: EU was the economic equal of the USA.
2010: China is the economic equal of the USA.

The business news is covered with stories about how China has passed us up in various ways, how we have been completely dependent on China for raw materials, manufactured goods, and money, and how even American schools are teaching Chinese so that our kids will be able to speak to our new overlords. Even my kids are going to be outdone those reared by Chinese Tiger Moms.

I am going to wait another ten years before leaping to any conclusions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Boys like sticks

The Slate Explainer's 2010 Question of the Year is Why Do Boys Like Sticks?

If you doubt the conclusion, then check out this stick dance, and tell me whether you have even seen girls do a dance like that.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dodo bird verdict

Psychiatry professor Richard A. Friedman writes in NY Times:
It is practically an article of faith among many therapists that self-understanding is a prerequisite for a happy life. Insight, the thinking goes, will free you from your psychological hang-ups and promote well-being.

Perhaps, but recent experience makes me wonder whether insight is all it’s cracked up to be.
He goes on to explain how insights made his patient unhappy. He also admits that the dodo effect means that no psychotherapy method has ever been shown to have any benefit anyway.

Nevertheless he says that he is "pretty good at treating clinical misery with drugs and therapy". Apparently he lacks the the insight to understand that his treatment is no better than doing nothing.

Meanwhile, a British shrink is in trouble for doing just what the patient asked:
A psychotherapist faces being struck off after trying to 'convert' a homosexual man.

Lesley Pilkington, 60, a therapist for 20 years, is accused of 'praying to God' to 'heal' the patient .

Mrs Pilkington, will appear at a landmark disciplinary hearing this week where she faces being stripped of her accreditation to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. ...

Mrs Pilkington accused Strudwick of entrapment. She said: 'He told me was looking for a treatment for being gay.

'I told him I only work using a Christian biblical framework and he said that was exactly what he wanted.'

Her defence is being funded by the Christian Legal Centre which has instructed a leading religious rights barrister to fight the case.
She should not have to argue religious freedom. Her approach is no more bogus than most of the other psychotherapy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Purpose of insurance

California news:
Starting this month, a new state law prohibits health insurers in California from using gender as a factor in pricing individual policies. ...

"The basic idea of insurance is that the risk is supposed to be spread across the entire pool," she said. "Once you start identifying certain populations and saying they have to pay more for various reasons, then that defeats the purpose of insurance."
No, the purpose of insurance is to hedge against uncertain losses. It is not to make life cheaper for hypochondriacs.

Insurance is more efficient when companies are able to make use of the available information. Women don't really get sick any more than men, but they do seek medical services more often. This is especially true in mental health services. Insurance works well because the companies are able to discriminate, and then spread the risk among similarly situated customers. We pay a price for these non-discrimination laws.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Email disclaimers

Wired magazine says that email disclaimers are meaningless:
“You have no obligation to obey the disclaimer if you decide to read a misdirected email, send it to your friends, or send it to a Wired reporter,” says Susan Lyon, a privacy and data security attorney for Perkins Coie. “You don’t have to worry about that.”
It is especially amusing to see lawyers use these silly disclaimers. It is like getting an email from a weatherman saying that a rain dance might cause a rain. It just makes me suspect that they have some misunderstandings about the law. Here is my favorite disclaimer.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

US Says Too Much Fluoride

The recent Skeptics' Guide To The Universe podcast started by making fun of "cranks" who complain about water fluoridation requirements in public water supplies. The guy says that the current doses are "perfectly safe".

I am sympathetic to these skeptics debunking charlatans, except that they do not seem be very skeptical of authorities who force dubious policies on everyone. In fact, there is solid evidence against fluoridation policies, such as this AP story:
In a remarkable turnabout, federal health officials say many Americans are now getting too much fluoride because of its presence not just in drinking water but in toothpaste, mouthwash and other products, and it's causing splotches on children's teeth and perhaps more serious problems.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced plans Friday to lower the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water for the first time in nearly 50 years, based on a fresh review of the science. ...

The government first began urging municipal water systems to add fluoride in the early 1950s. ...

One reason behind the change: About 2 out of 5 adolescents have tooth streaking or spottiness because of too much fluoride, a government study found recently.
California rejected fluoridation in the 1950s, and has only been adding it in the last few years. My county does not have it, as it is staunchly opposed by the left-wingers. It has to be forced on us. It used to be opposed by right-wingers. There are a lot of good reasons to be skeptical about the official fluoride policies. The Jan. 2008 Scientific American had an article on how adding fluoride to water has an assortment of health risks, and little benefit to those who brush their teeth.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Vaccine persecution continues

The vaccine proponents are gloating about a finding that Andrew Wakefield described 12 cases inaccurately in a 1998 paper on MMR and autism.

The attacks on Wakefield have been going on for years, as noted here.

A minor 1998 study being wrong should not be news, since much medical research is wrong. My concern is that now researchers will be intimidated into not publishing results that deviate from official vaccine recommendations. The Wakefield example shows that they would risk having vaccine promoters taking extraordinary steps to destroy their careers if they question vaccines.

The NY Times reports:
One of psychology’s most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events.

The decision may delight believers in so-called paranormal events, but it is already mortifying scientists. ...

Some scientists say the report deserves to be published, in the name of open inquiry; others insist that its acceptance only accentuates fundamental flaws in the evaluation and peer review of research in the social sciences.

“It’s craziness, pure craziness. I can’t believe a major journal is allowing this work in,” Ray Hyman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University Oregon and longtime critic of ESP research, said. “I think it’s just an embarrassment for the entire field.”
It is craziness, but it is better than having to listen to ESP advocates complain that their research is censored for ideological reasons. Sensible people will understand that some studies are outweighed by overwhelming contrary evidence.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Why math is unique

The brilliant mathematician Timothy Gowers wrote an elementary book on Math,
and makes this point:
For example, as I was re-reading an interesting little maths primer this week by Timoth Gowers (A Fields medal winner and maths prof at Cambridge) I found him briefly discussing axiomatics and the role of Russell and Whitehads' "Principia Mathematica". The importance of this text, for Gowers, is that it establishes the axiomatic hermeneutic (my phrase not his btw) which "means that any dispute about the validity of a mathematical proof can always be resolved".
That is correct. Furthermore, as Gowers goes on to explain:
Nevertheless, the fact that disputes can in principle be resolved does make mathematics unique. There is no mathematicd equivalent of astronomers who still believe in the steady-state theory of the universe, or of biologists who hold, with great conviction, very different views about how much is explained by natural selection, or of philosophers who dis- agree fundamentally about the relationship between consciousness and the physical world, or of economists who follow opposing schools of thought such as monetarism and neo-Keynesianism. [p.49]
That is correct, and it is a consequence of logicism. Math is the only subject that resolves all of its disputes.

You might think that the The hard sciences would be able to resolve disputes, but they are not. Physics has a dispute over the merits if string theory, and there is no hope of any resolution.

Update: I see that the Wikipedia article on Mathematics has some nonsense about philosphers and mathematicians deciding that math must be like a science because Goedel proved that it was not reducible to logic. As explained below, they are wrong. You can find a more accurate description of the logical nature of math in the article on Axiomatic set theory. I'd like to see those philosophers and mathematicians named.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Obama portrayed as space alien

V (2009 TV series) is back on the air, and the parody of Pres. Barack Obama is creepy. He is played by a female alien heartless reptile named Anna. She is a paranoid megalomaniac. She lures earthlings with grand promises in order to control them. She hates human emotions, and keeps the details of her grand evil schemes secret. She even looks like Obama. I noted similarities before.

Words even Twain cannot say anymore

Today's news about our flawed criminal justice system:
DALLAS (AP) -- Prosecutors declared a Texas man innocent Monday of a rape and robbery that put him in prison for 30 years, more than any other DNA exoneree in Texas.

DNA test results that came back barely a week after Cornelius Dupree Jr. was paroled in July excluded him as the person who attacked a Dallas woman in 1979, prosecutors said Monday. Dupree was just 20 when he was sentenced to 75 years in prison in 1980.
And today's censorship:
What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will remove all instances of the “n” word -— I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch -— present in the text and replace it with slave. The new book will also remove usage of the word Injun.
White liberals are responsible for this outrage.

In another story:
Christina Scavo and Shannon O'Toole contend in a lawsuit filed Monday they were subjected to sexual harassment and job discrimination. ...

While the women don't say they received any messages directly from Favre, the quarterback referred to Scavo in a message proposing a meeting with her and a third, unidentified massage therapist, the lawsuit says.

"Kinda lonely tonight," he added in a subsequent message to the third masseuse, the lawsuit said. "I guess I have bad intentions."
So two massage therapists are suing Favre because he sent a suggestive message to a third woman who is not suing! Are they jealous?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Blind critters and funny video

It is a new year, and I am already swamped with news stories that show our society's warped values. I think that it is evidence for our decline that these are even stories. AP reports that sea lion shootings are up:
Wildlife officials say sea lion and human populations continue to increase, making interaction more common, especially among fishermen who compete for the same food and often view the creatures as a nuisance. ...

Veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., are treating the wounded critter in the hope an aquarium or zoo will take it. The 7-foot-long male, dubbed Silent Knight by its rescuers, is now blind and cannot return to the wild. ...

Larry Legans of Sacramento was ordered to pay more than $51,000 in restitution for the cost of treating the critter, who recently underwent plastic surgery at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to close bullet holes in its muzzle. Legas also spent a month in jail and got five years probation.
So the population of the critters is up, they are eating too many fish, and more are getting shot. So what is the problem? Why do plastic surgery on blind critters? We have too many of them anyway.

A Navy captain, Owen Honors, is accused of making an inappropriate video. I've watched it. What's the problem? How is it that non-soldiers are even expressing an opinion on what is appropriate on a military submarine. They have no idea.

Meanwhile, look at these pictures of Detroit here and here. There is a serious decline of a once-great city.

Update: Pres. Obama has not fired Owens. This shows where Obama's concerns are.