Links 7/21/14

Links for you. Science:

Open source plasmids: just add bacteria and reproduce at will
CDC’s lab problems have ripple effect on other outbreaks
Hospitals miss goal for worker flu shots
Microbes Help Corals Pick a Home and Settle Down

Other:

Peeling the onion: Almost everyone involved in developing Tor was (or is) funded by the US government (must-read; people seem to forget that spies should never be trusted)
NBC News Pulls Veteran Reporter from Gaza After Witnessing Israeli Attack on Children
Miami, the great world city, is drowning while the powers that be look away
TechCrunch editor says she’s “a cheerleader” who would have totally caved to Obama over Snowden
I have never been more conscious of my womanhood than right now in Jerusalem
After the Crash
Yet another TSA screener doesn’t know that DC is part of America
Arizona Charter School History Book: Slavery Was Awesome!
How to Renounce America and Still Be Called a Patriot: Her father is a senator, she’s a CEO, and her company is forsaking its U.S. citizenship.
Battle over handicap accessibility on Beacon Hill continues to ramp up
A List of People Who Supported the War in Iraq

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I’m Not Sure How You Forget This

I understand that little kids drop their shoes all the time, but I really think whoever forgot this on Kalorama Rd., Northwest D.C. is going to need this:

You'll need that 2

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Technobrats, Beware Campbell’s Law

David Leonhardt is all excited about the growing movement to measure the effectiveness of gummint programs!

And yet there is some good news in this area, too. The explosion of available data has made evaluating success – in the government and the private sector – easier and less expensive than it used to be. At the same time, a generation of data-savvy policy makers and researchers has entered government and begun pushing it to do better. They have built on earlier efforts by the Bush and Clinton administrations.

The result is a flowering of experiments to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

New York City, Salt Lake City, New York State and Massachusetts have all begun programs to link funding for programs to their success: The more effective they are, the more money they and their backers receive. The programs span child care, job training and juvenile recidivism. The approach is known as “pay for success,” and it’s likely to spread to Cleveland, Denver and California soon. David Cameron’s conservative government in Britain is also using it. The Obama administration likes the idea, and two House members – Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, and John Delaney, a Maryland Democrat – have introduced a modest bill to pay for a version known as “social impact bonds.”

The White House is also pushing for an expansion of randomized controlled trials to evaluate government programs. Such trials, Mr. Schuck notes, are “the gold standard” for any kind of evaluation. Using science as a model, researchers randomly select some people to enroll in a government program and others not to enroll. The researchers then study the outcomes of the two groups.

In principle, we like TEH SCIENTISMZ! when it comes to policy assessment (We, however, do not like social impact bonds). But in practice, the outcome has been less than stellar, whether it be education, nuclear defense (?!?), or cardiology. For a recent horror story, read this by Rachel Aviv about the testing scandal in Atlanta.

When people’s jobs depend on these outcomes, there will be the temptation to fudge the numbers (or flat out cheat). In the Atlanta scandal, as well as the Air Force, the measurements used were viewed as illegitimate, which lent legitimacy to the cheaters (in the Atlanta case, it was seen as protecting children by some). Does this mean we shouldn’t assess these programs? Not necessarily, but we should be very cautious in interpreting the results–and I’m sure that will happen. Understanding the limitations of the data will be vital, or else a lot of damage will be done, often to those who can least afford it.

Posted in Economics, Education, Fucking Morons, Statistics, Things That Make Ya Go Boom | 2 Comments

Links 7/20/14

Links for you. Science:

Feynman is not my hero
Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault
The Birds and the Bees, academic version
On the (Very Smelly) Trail of the Skunk Takeover: Pet-friendly American suburbs make ideal habitats for skunks, and populations of the bushy-tailed moochers have exploded in recent years. Time to investigate an outbreak that’s bringing the wrong kind of funk to summer nights.

Other:

Lessons From America’s War for the Greater Middle East (excellent)
Fake TSA screener infiltrates SFO checkpoint, gropes women

Former Grad Student Files $20 Million Lawsuit Against Vanderbilt
(this is what it will take–hit them in their wallets)
Does Science magazine actually sell many copies at the newsstand?
The 7 Ugliest Government Buildings In Washington, D.C.
How Extreme Right-Wingers Are Using Marijuana as Trojan Horse for Their Schemes: Jury nullification is a long-term pet project.
MBTA JANITORS SPEAK OUT AGAINST CUTS, SAY TRAINS AND PLATFORMS WILL HAVE EVEN MORE PISS AND PUKE THAN USUAL
Government Failures On the Rise? Take It With a Grain of Salt. (good understanding of the limitations of the data)
Nestlé doesn’t want you to know how much water it’s bottling from the California desert
The Democrats’ Brilliant Idea for How to Stop Unnecessary Abortion Clinic Regulations
A brief history of hating cities
America’s middle class: Poorer than you think
The Long Road to Abortion for Some of the Country’s Poorest Women

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Heavy Metal Origami

Observed on Swann St., between New Hampshire and 18th, Northwest D.C.:

Heavy metal origami

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Apparently, All of My Generation’s Parents Were Abusive

I’m utterly flummoxed by the overreaction to a working mother who let her daughter play at a heavily-used park while she worked, and was then arrested for abandoning her daughter (who was then transferred to the custody of child services). Commandante Atrios (boldface mine):

I really have no understanding of how social norms of parenting have changed so much. “Stranger danger” is hardly real. Car accidents and abuse by family members are real. Most 9-year-olds are perfectly capable of being on their own for some length of time without lighting themselves on fire. A playground filled with children and adults is not actually a dangerous place.

When I go back to the neighborhood where I spent some time growing up, I’m always struck by the fact that I never see any children outside, ever….But when I was a kid we’d wander around, ride our bikes, go into the “woods,” go down to the creek, play street hockey in the middle of the road, etc. This was all normal.

I would argue that turning the kids loose until dinner time (with instructions to not cause trouble–which typically meant serious injury or property damage) probably saved a marriage or two in my neighborhood. I think every parent in my neighborhood could have been arrested for ‘abandonment’ at one time or another. Hell, a huge fraction of Steven Spielberg movies could never happen today, because the kids wouldn’t be let out of their parents’ sight.

Maybe our parents did it wrong, but I think things have become a little crazy. And parents might enjoy not having the kids around all the time: they’ll still love you* in the years to come.

*Unless you’re an asshole, of course.

Posted in WhatEVAH! | 6 Comments

Links 7/19/14

Links for you. Science:

Cambridge Working Group Consensus Statement on the Creation of Potential Pandemic Pathogens (PPPs)
Lizard “Sees” With Its Skin For Automatic Camouflage
How not to make your papers replicable
Do trans-fat bans save lives?

Other:

Why more psychological therapy would cost nothing
Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today
A Former Comcast Employee Explains That Horrifying Customer Service Call
Tobacco is still America’s top health threat. But Washington doesn’t treat it that way.
Tenure haters’ big delusion: Why Campbell Brown and co. are wrong about teaching
Kentucky Republican Introduces Amendment To Gut D.C.’s Gun Laws
Audit: Boston Redevelopment Authority? Kinda more like Broken Redevelopment Authority
THE “DISEASED IMMIGRANT” PANIC DIDN’T JUST HAPPEN
Seedy tale: Chinese researchers stole patented corn, U.S. prosecutors allege
Juice is not natural (!!!)
Rallying Cry for D.C.’s NEMBYs: “No Embassies In My Back Yard” (I’m very curious to hear what the DC technobrats think about this)
Security Detail for Fed Chairwoman Irks Neighbors: Residents in Gated Community Say Commotion Surrounding Yellen Is Disrupting Neighborhood

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