Sunday, September 29, 2013

New Gladwell book is more junk

Psychology professor Christopher Chabris trashed a new book in a paywalled review:
Malcolm Gladwell too often presents as proven laws what are just intriguing possibilities and musings about human behavior. ...

Mr. Gladwell enjoys a reputation for translating social science into actionable insights. But the data behind the surprising dyslexia claim is awfully slim. ...

The overarching thesis of "David and Goliath" is that for the strong, "the same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness," whereas for the weak, "the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty." According to Mr. Gladwell, the secret of Mr. Boies's greatness is neither luck nor training. Rather, he got where he did because he was dyslexic.
I question whether David Boies is such a great lawyer, as he has famously lost some big cases. He lost Bush v Gore by arguing for a non-uniform recount, when a uniform recount might have won the election for his client. He lost Napster. He bungled the antitrust case against Microsoft by emphasizing embarrassing emails and failing to make arguments that would result in a meaningful remedy. Most recently he failed to convince the US Supreme Court that there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, even tho that seemed to be the belief of Kennedy and the four liberals.

Gladwell is famous for spreading a number of bad ideas, such as his 10,000 rule, debunked by a recent book on the sports gene (but Gladwell still defending it), and the value of reshirting. I posted below how a lot of people believe in academic redshirting, in spite of evidence to the contrary.

Another review of Gladwell's new book points out evidence against athletic redshirting as well:
In his 2008 bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell famously identifies an “iron law of Canadian hockey: In any elite group of hockey players — the very best of the best — 40% of the players will have been born between January and March.” Gladwell explains this phenomenon through the relative age effect — the theory that Jan. 1 cut-off dates mean that kids born early in the year are bigger and stronger than those born later; the stronger kids make the team, practice more and the gap inexorably widens. So, if you want to produce the next Crosby, aim for January. Seems straightforward, right?

According to the sociologists Benjamin Gibbs, Jonathan Jarvis and Mikaela Dufur, it’s anything but. In a study published last year in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, the trio argues that if you redefine “elite,” Gladwell’s theory crumbles. Gibbs and his team looked at Canadian-born players on NHL All-Star teams and Canadian Olympic hockey rosters from recent years. They found that, on average, just 17% of those players were born in January, February or March. On Canada’s 2010 gold medal-winning team, a mere 13% adhere to the “iron law.” An early birth date may be advantageous if your goal is simply reaching the NHL. However, at “the most elite levels of play, the relative age effect reverses.” In other words, to achieve true hockey greatness, an early birthday is a disadvantage.
Steve Pinker describes Gladwell as having an Igon Value Problem. That is, he is a good story-teller who interviews experts and regurgitates anecdotes without really understanding them.

Gladwell has made millions of dollars on his books. Readers are somehow suckered into believing that he has profound insights into human behavior. He is one of the most highly paid speakers in the world. And yet his lessons are self-contradictory and contrary to common sense. The New Yorker is famous for publishing this sort of writer. Jonah Lehrer is another example.

In his defense:
I feel pretty badly for Malcolm Gladwell. Everyone from Steven Pinker to Steve Sailer criticizes his writings. He seems like a soft-spoken, genuinely kind man who is trying to encourage everyone to try their best in life, even if they don’t have the natural talent. (Not saying his detractors are saying otherwise. I understand why they do it, as the truth should matter more than good intentions.)
So I guess his books sell because people like what he has to say, whether it is right or not.

Pinker also has a new book of previous essays, Language, Cognition, and Human Nature. It includes his Why nature & nurture won’t go away where he explains how academics falsely promote the blank slate. While most liberal prefer nuture over nature, JayMan cites the evidence for genetic determinism, and denies free will. In particular, many political beliefs are highly heritable.

Update: Slate has a new article on academic redshirting:
The practice has become even more controversial in recent years over claims that some parents do it for the wrong reasons: They redshirt their kids not because their kids aren’t ready for school, but because, in the age of parenting as competitive sport, holding them out might give them an academic, social, and athletic edge over their peers. If little Delia is the star of kindergarten, they scheme, maybe she’ll ride the wave all the way to Harvard. Gaming the system this way, of course, puts other kids at a disadvantage.
I fail to see how it can be wrong to get your kid a better education. Other parents could do the same thing, if they wanted. Just because a decision is an advantage to one kid, does not mean that it is a disadvantage to others. And as the article explains, the redshirting studies indicate that it is not even an advantage:
In 2006, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California analyzed national data collected over many years from 15,000 26-year-olds. They compared what became of kids who had been redshirted to what became of kids who had been young for their class but not redshirted. They found that the redshirted kids performed worse on 10th-grade tests, were twice as likely to drop out of school, and were less likely to graduate from college; the only advantage to redshirting was that redshirted kids were marginally more likely to play varsity sports in high school. (Journalist Malcolm Gladwell made this “relative age effect” famous in his book Outliers when he pointed out that many professional hockey players were born between January and March and thus had been the oldest on their school hockey teams; however, this effect does not seem to exist for football, volleyball, and basketball or any women’s sports.)

Other research suggests that redshirted kids are less motivated and engaged than their younger peers in high school and that they are more likely to require special education services. And in a 2008 review, David Deming, an economist of education at Harvard University, and Susan Dynarski, an education and public policy expert at the University of Michigan, concluded that redshirted kids also tend to have lower IQs and earnings as adults. This latter finding is probably linked to the fact that redshirted teens are more likely to drop out of high school than non-redshirted teens. Redshirted kids tend to have lower lifetime earnings, too, because they enter the labor force a year later.
Update: Gladwell replies:
What is going on here? The kinds of people who read books in America seem to have no problem with my writing. But I am clearly a bee in the bonnet of some of the kinds of people who review books in America. I think this has to do with the way in which my books are written. I write in the genre of what might be called “intellectual adventure stories.” ...

habris should calm down. I was simply saying that all writing about social science need not be presented with the formality and precision of the academic world. There is a place for storytelling, in all of its messiness. My point was that the people who read my books appreciate this. They are perfectly aware of the strengths and weakness of the narrative form. They know what a story can and can’t do, and they understand that narratives sometimes begin in one place and end in another.
Okay, his readers like his storytelling. Just don't take him too seriously.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Strip joint wants $35k credit card bill

I am not sure why this is a story:
A San Francisco strip club is suing Oracle after the tech goliath refused to pay a $33,540 bill allegedly racked up on the company credit card.

Larkin Street's New Century Theater has filed a lawsuit claiming a man - named in the legal paperwork as Jose Manuel Gomez Sanchez - slid into the sexy flesh-pit last year and partied through the night.

It's alleged he used an Oracle-issued American Express card between 1am and 5am to pay for $16,490 of undisclosed services on 2 October - right in the middle of Oracle's OpenWorld 2012 conference in the city - and then returned two days later to splurge $17,050.

According to the San Fran Chronicle, Oracle was not willing to settle the subsequent bill.
Of course Oracle was unwilling to pay. Obvious this is an unauthorized charge, whether the card was stolen or not.

The strip club knew that this was not a legitimate business expense, and would not have accepted the card if it were honest. The club was committing some sort of fraud. Maybe the club should be criminally prosecuted.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Columnist obsessed with hating the Pope

Edgar Ross writes:
In 1992, 359 years after the fact, the Catholic Church recognized that Galileo was correct in suggesting that not all heavenly bodies circle the earth. (They didn't change his status from "heretic" to "hero of faith and science" until 2008, suggesting that the Vatican would remain anything but a fast-reacting organization.)
No, Galileo was not declared a heretic, and was never punished for making any scientific suggestions. The Pope even asked Galileo to publish arguments for and against heliocentrism. See Galileo Affair. According to relativity, the choice of a frame of reference determines wheter those bodies go around the Earth.
Nevertheless, Pope Francis has now declared that the church has been excessively obsessed about abortion, birth control and homosexuality. This is really astonishing.
No, he did not say that. See the interview. And the Pope Francis is still
denouncing abortion. The basic teachings have not changed.

Jeremy Brown writes in the Wash. Post:
That theory was proposed by a Polish church official and astronomer named Nicholas Copernicus in 1543 and it suggested that the Earth was not the center of the universe, but rather only one of several planets that orbited the sun.

The Copernican model was a threat to both Jewish and church teachings of the time, because they held that the Earth was the fixed and unmoving center of the universe. This theological position was based partly on a literal understanding of some biblical verses, but mostly on the fact that Greeks had taught the geocentric model and it had been accepted for well over fifteen centuries. ...

It was not until 1835 that the Catholic Church lifted the ban on Copernicus’s book and in that century at least eighteen pro-Copernican Hebrew books were published, but opposition from a minority still remained. In 1898 for example, one rabbi in Jerusalem wrote that the earth was most certainly stationary, and that those who thought otherwise were motivated by “a desire to destroy religion.” A tiny minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews share this belief even today, but such views are fringe indeed, and are not shared by their rabbinic leadership.
The Copernicus book was not banned. It was originally published with the official endorsement of the Catholic Church. Decades later, after the book had been obsoleted by other models, the church revoked its endorsement because of nine sentences sentences. With those sentences omitted, the church had no objection.

Brown blames the Church for accepting Greek teachings, but the more accurate statement is that it was following the accepted scientific teachings of the day. Galileo's main argument for heliocentrism was based on the tides, and the Church was correct in rejecting the fallacious argument. And anyone complaining about a Copernicus ban should really explain the merits of those nine sentences, and no one ever does.

A companion op-ed says:
Bishop Fulton Sheen, the earliest and perhaps best known Catholic televangelist, once famously said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”
Some of this criticism is strange. No other major religion has as good a record of accepting scientific advances. Meanwhile, there is news everyday of Mohammedans killing infidels all over the world.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Academic redshirting more popular

The New Yorker mag reports:
Redshirting is the practice of holding a child back for an extra year before the start of kindergarten, named for the red jersey worn in intra-team scrimmages by college athletes kept out of competition for a year. It is increasingly prevalent among parents of would-be kindergartners. In 1968, four per cent of kindergarten students were six years old; by 1995, the number of redshirted first- and second-graders had grown to nine per cent. In 2008, it had risen to seventeen per cent. ...

On the surface, redshirting seems to make sense in the academic realm, too. ...

The data, however, belies this assumption.
There is a free book, A Nation Deceived, that details the academic advantages to acceleration.

The sports analogy does not work. If you try to accelerate a kid athletically, he sits on the bench. But academically, he learns more. You can put a kid about 6 months ahead by sending him to an expensive private school, but it is a lot cheaper and more effective to get accelerated classes in the public school, if possible.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Killer used name Mohammed Salem

Buried in the reporting on the Washington Navy Yard shooting is this story:
Friends and relatives have also said he had a preoccupation with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, felt slighted as a veteran, had money problems and was so unhappy with his life that he considered leaving the U.S.

Law enforcement officials told NBC News that Alexis created a webpage with the name "Mohammed Salem," but they said he never did anything with it. They said they had found nothing else that might indicate any interest in violent jihad or even in Islam.
So he was just a black Buddhist who heard voices in his head? Are these the same officials who denied that the Fort Hood shooting was Islamic terrorism?

Alexis did prove that so-called assault weapons are not need for this sort of mass killing. He had a plain old low-tech pump-action shotgun and 24 shells. It was just the gun that VP Joe Biden encourages everyone to buy and use for warning shots. And he did it in the area with the tightest gun control laws in the USA.

Update: Alexis was also on the antidepressant trazodone, which is associated with violence in some patients.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Paul Offit plugs his own magic

I have criticized Paul Offit on vaccination, as have others on places like but I expected to agree with much of his new book, Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. I listened to his podcast promoting the book, and it turns out that Offit favors physicians prescribing homeopathic pills in order to trick patients into getting the placebo effect!

He also defended vaccines by saying that Wakefield should never have been allowed to publish his suspicions about the MMR (measles) vaccine. He bragged about how Wakefield has been so thoroughly discredited that no one dares criticize the vaccine establishment anymore.

I am not sticking up for chiropractors, homeopathy, Dr. Oz, acupuncture, but I find that mainstream physicians like Offit have very little appreciation for scientific thinking. A real scientist would let Wafefield pushlish whatever he wants, and then do studies to disprove him. An honest physician would not lie to his patients about placebos.

He leaves me wondering whether he is pushing vaccines for their placebo effect, in part.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Promise to terrorists

I knew that Mohammedan terrorist martyrs are promised 72 Virgins in heaven, but I did not know that they are all the same age as the terrorist. No wonder we don't see 80yo terrorists!

I also didn't know that Tony Blair's sister-in-law (wife's sister) converted to Islam in 2010. He previously converted to Catholicism.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bonds convicted for telling the truth

I defended Barry Bonds in his conviction and sentencing, and criticized the unethical prosecutors.

To my surprise, his conviction was just upheld:
Upholding the conviction of Barry Bonds on Friday, a federal appeals court found that factually true testimony, if misleading enough, can obstruct justice.

The case before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco tested the limits of the federal criminal obstruction statute and came down to whether baseball’s home run king had made false, misleading or evasive statements to a grand jury a decade ago in connection to a steroid investigation.

Testifying before a grand jury in 2003, Mr. Bonds was asked whether his trainer, Greg Anderson, ever provided him with injectable substances.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Bonds’ response, which led to his conviction on one count in 2011, obscured his dealings with Mr. Anderson.

The key part of his response was this:
I don’t talk about his business. You know what I mean? …. That’s what keeps our friendship. You know, I am sorry, but that – – you know, that — I was a celebrity child, not just in baseball by my own instincts. I became a celebrity child with a famous father. I just don’t get into other people’s business because of my father’s situation, you see.
The Ninth Circuit said that while factually true, the statement “served to divert the grand jury’s attention away from the relevant inquiry of the investigation.” And the court said it was also misleading because it implied that Mr. Bonds did not know whether his trainer distributed steroids, conflicting with subsequent trial testimony. ...

“Although the obstruction statute has existed for nearly two centuries, the government cannot point to a single case where a defendant has been found guilty of obstruction based on truthful testimony under oath,” Mr. Bonds’ lawyers wrote in their appellate brief.
This shows that if you are unpopular enough, the feds can convict you of just about anything. When Bonds is interviewed, he can just say, "I was only ever convicted of telling the truth."

The ruling reasoned:
We can easily think of examples of responses that are true but nevertheless obstructive. Consider a situation where a prosecutor asks a grand jury witness if the witness drove the getaway car in a robbery. The witness truthfully responds, “I do not have a driver’s license.” This response would be factually true, but it could also imply that he did not drive the getaway car. If the witness did in fact drive the getaway car, his answer, although not in itself false, would nevertheless be misleading, because it would imply that he did not drive the getaway car. It could also be deemed evasive since it did not answer the question.
There is a difference between a grand jury hearing and a police interrogation. We don't convict people based on their unwillingness to incriminate themselves. In the above situation, the prosecutor would normally repeat the question and insist on an answer. In this case, it is plausible that Bonds simply misunderstood the question or thought that his answer was acceptable.

I haven't followed the case against A-Rod, but I am dubious about that also. He faces the longest finite suspension in MLB history, even tho he has not tested positive for drugs and his penalty does not seem to follow any baseball rules. It appears that the league wanted to cut his career short before he breaks too many records, and so the Yankees don't have to pay him so much.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Human evolution continues

It is funny to see evolutionists who do not seem to believe in the theory. A UK newspaper reports:
Sir David, whose new show concentrates on the ascent of man, said he believed humans had now stopped evolving in physical terms, after developing means to keep even the weakest of the species alive.

Saying we are now able to rear up to 99 per cent of our babies, he added people were no longer subject to Darwinian theories natural selection.

Instead, he proposed, humans would continue to develop in a cultural sense; inheriting knowledge from previous generations and building upon it.

In an interview with the Radio Times this week, Sir David said: “I think that we’ve stopped evolving.

“Because if natural selection, as proposed by Darwin, is the main mechanism of evolution – there may be other things, but it does look as though that’s the case – then we’ve stopped natural selection.
On the contrary, human evolution is accelerating, as documented by Gene Ex,
Hawks, and hbd chick.

This is a sensitive issue, as Darwin said:
At some future period not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes...will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest Allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla
In fact the opposite has occurred, as the white proportion of world population has fallen ever since, and could drop to 10% in a couple of decades.

I am also amazed when someone brags about how genomic data is going to change the world for the better, but refuses to get the info himself.For example, this TED Talk:
About Richard Resnick's TEDTalk

In this talk, Richard Resnick shows how cheap and fast genome sequencing is about to turn health care (even insurance, and politics) upside down.
But he is personally scared of DNA:
RESNICK: The world has completely changed and none of you know about it.

RAZ: So how is it going to change the world?

RESNICK: In a bunch of ways. ...

RAZ: Have you sequenced your own genome?


RAZ: Why not?

RESNICK: Because I don't want to know. I don't want to - you know. I mean, if I were sick, I would do it for a diagnostic reason, but not for a prognostic reason. And that's the advice that I would give to anybody 'cause you may find a variant that suggests that you're going to get really sick with something terrible and it may never happen.
This is like a bank president being afraid to use an ATM card, or an Apple president being afraid to use a cell phone.

Update: Note also that the genomics lobby overwhelmingly supported Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), making it illegal to use genetic info to get a discount in medical insurance fees. GINA seems entirely based on some sort of phobia about genomic info.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bad study of ideological bias

Mother Jones cites a new study:
But in another sense, it really doesn't matter at all. These days, even relatively simple public policy issues can only be properly analyzed using statistical techniques that are beyond the understanding of virtually all of us. So the fact that ideology destroys our personal ability to do math hardly matters. In practice, nearly all of us have to rely on the word of experts when it comes to this kind of stuff, and there's never any shortage of experts to crunch the numbers and produce whatever results our respective tribes demand.

We believe what we want to believe, and neither facts nor evidence ever changes that much. Welcome to planet Earth.
The study claims:
The public’s limited knowledge is aggravated by psychological dynamics. Popular risk perceptions, it is thought, tend to originate in a rapid, heuristic-driven form of information processing — what decision scientists refer to as “System 1” reasoning (Stanovich & West 2000; Kahneman 2003). Overreliance on System 1 heuristics are the root of myriad cognitive biases. By fixing attention on emotionally gripping instances of harm, or by inducing selective attention to evidence that confirms rather than disappoints moral predispositions, System 1 information processing induces members of the public variously to overestimate some risks and underestimate others relative to the best available evidence, the proper evaluation of which requires exercise of more deliberate and reflective “System 2” forms of information processing
No, these distinctions have never been established, and the authors are the innumerate ones here. The study devises a trick question, worded in a confusing way. 59% get it wrong, and probably most of those getting it right just made a lucky guess. Then the question is modified for some political purpose.

All the study shows is that if the question is so confusing that no one understands it, then people will sometimes use their prior knowledge to make an educated guess.

Here are some confusing things about the skin cream question. The question fails to say that the two groups were randomly selected, or were otherwise similarly situated. The question suggests that a large number of patients dropped out of the study, but gives no clue how to account for that. The question asks whether "the new cream is likely to make the skin condition better or worse." In that sentence, it is not clear that the cream is to be compared to not using the cream. As a result, the question cannot be answered correctly. It is an exercise in guessing what assumptions to make. Unless the study authors understand why 59% give the supposedly incorrect answer, the whole study is worthless.

There are many academics, particular on the Left, who are always trying to concoct arguments that the public would change their political views if they only understood the facts. Maybe so, but the people who write these papers do not understand the facts.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Ranking individualism

Here are 40 great maps.

The Obama-Putin comparison is funny. Also this one.

This site compares countries according to individuality, masculinity, future time orientation, and a couple of other factors. The USA scores highest in individualism.

I am not sure if these factors are genetic, cultural, or what, but they are surely not changed by a new government or any other short-term change.

Here are also National stereotypes of business meetings. The three types are USA/UK/Germany, Latin American, and Oriental.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Not known how psychiatric drugs work

The New Yorker reports:
Yet the psychiatric-drug industry is in trouble. “We are facing a crisis,” the Cornell psychiatrist and New York Times contributor Richard Friedman warned last week. In the past few years, one pharmaceutical giant after another—GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Novartis, Pfizer, Merck, Sanofi—has shrunk or shuttered its neuroscience research facilities. Clinical trials have been halted, lines of research abandoned, and the new drug pipeline has been allowed to run dry. ...

The serotonin-imbalance theory, however, has turned out to be just as inaccurate as Schildkraut’s. While S.S.R.I.s surely alter serotonin metabolism, those changes do not explain why the drugs work, nor do they explain why they have proven to be no more effective than placebos in clinical trials. Within a decade of Prozac’s approval by the F.D.A. in 1987, scientists had concluded that serotonin was only a finger pointing at one’s mood—that the causes of depression and the effects of the drugs were far more complex than the chemical-imbalance theory implied. The ensuing research has mostly yielded more evidence that the brain, which has more neurons than the Milky Way has stars and is perhaps one of the most complex objects in the universe, is an elusive target for drugs.

Despite their continued failure to understand how psychiatric drugs work, doctors continue to tell patients that their troubles are the result of chemical imbalances in their brains. As Frank Ayd pointed out, this explanation helps reassure patients even as it encourages them to take their medicine, and it fits in perfectly with our expectation that doctors will seek out and destroy the chemical villains responsible for all of our suffering, both physical and mental. The theory may not work as science, but it is a devastatingly effective myth.
It is widely believed that various mental disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, but that has never been proved. For the most part, psychiatrists just try drugs randomly until the patient accepts a drug and a dose. There is no measurement of an imbalance, nor is any drug regimen chosen to quantitatively correct an imbalance.