Links 7/31/14

Links for you. Science:

Feral cats are an invasive species
The Forgotten Woman Who Made Microbiology Possible
A scientist sets an example for the church
Poisoned Planet


The sky has been falling since 1990
Honesty, Sass, and Public Ed (very good)
That FL CEO Who Said He’d FIRE Everyone if Obama Elected? Guess What Happened…
Michelle Rhee’s High-Priced PR
My son has been suspended five times. He’s 3. Black families fight entrenched prejudices to get fair discipline for their children in schools.
As Reason’s editor defends its racist history, here’s a copy of its holocaust denial “special issue”
‘Crack baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result
Woman registering people to vote is charged with 32 felonies on a technicality
Social-political Sectarianism Swallowing Public Reason
Mark Cuban Threatens To Dump Companies That Move Offshore
How Is This Not Manslaughter?
Olympic dreams: How Boston was shaped by the trophies it didn’t win. The city tried and failed to host the 1980 alterna-Olympics, the 1976 World Expo, and NASA Mission Control. They ended up changing the landscape anyway.
Instead of asking, “Did she say no?”, we should start asking, “Did she want to have sex?”

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

Carl Lutz Lived Here

Not exactly fantastic digs on Corcoran St., between 18th and 19th, NW D.C.:

Carl huse house

But he did some very good things:

Carl huse house

Well done, Ambassador.

Posted in DC, Jewish Stuff | Leave a comment

Why You Shouldn’t Take Education ‘Reform’ Seriously: Because Their Science Sucks

Yes, it’s a brutal charge, but, sadly, it’s true. Economist Moshe Adler (who has also written an excellent book Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal) has squared off against Raj Chetty et alia, an MIT economist who has used value-added measurements–which we find very problematic when applied to education–to claim that teacher quality can affect lifetime economic earnings. Chetty’s work received a lot of attention when President Obama mentioned it in his 2012 State of the Union address (and the initial reports from 2010 had problems as well). Here’s a summary of Chetty’s work by Adler:

The first part of the report (NBER Working Paper No. 19423) reviewed here linked information about students and teachers in grades three through eight in New York City (NYC), spanning the years 1989-2009. The research used this linked dataset for “value added” (VA) calculations for individual teachers. The model used for the VA calculation controls for factors such as students’ prior achievement, parents’ income, and the performance of other students in the classroom. But none of these factors can entirely predict a child’s performance. After accounting for all known and easily measurable social and economic factors, a residue still remains. The report assumes that this residue is attributable to the teacher, and it calculates a teacher’s value-added by using the residues of his or her students.

The second part of the report then linked the incomes of adults with the value-added of their teachers when those earner-adults were students. Using this linked data set they found that a one unit (one standard deviation) increase in teacher value-added increases income at age 28 by $286 per year or 1.34%. The study then assumes that this percentage increase in income will hold for a person’s entire working life, producing a cumulative lifetime increase of $39,000 per student.

Sounds impressive. But there are problems, as Adler lays out (boldface mine):

1. An earlier version of the report found that an increase in teacher value-added has no effect on income at age 30, but this result is not mentioned in this revised version. Instead, the authors state that they did not have a sufficiently large sample to investigate the relationship between teacher value-added and income at any age after 28, but this claim is untrue. They had 220,000 observations (p. 15), which is a more than sufficiently large sample for their analysis.

2. The method used to calculate the 1.34% increase is misleading, since observations with no reported income were included in the analysis, while high earners were excluded. If done properly, it is possible that the effect of teacher value-added is to decrease, not increase, income at age 28 (or 30).

3. The increase in annual income at age 28 due to having a higher quality teacher “improved” dramatically from the first version of the report ($182 per year, report of December, 2011) to the next ($286 per year, report of September, 2013). Because the data sets are not identical, a slight discrepancy between estimates is to be expected. But since the discrepancy is so large, it suggests that the correlation between teacher value-added and income later in life is random.

4. In order to achieve its estimate of a $39,000 income gain per student, the report makes the assumption that the 1.34% increase in income at age 28 will be repeated year after year. Because no increase in income was detected at age 30, and because 29.6% of the observations consisted of non-filers, this assumption is unjustified.

5. The effect of teacher value-added on test scores fades out rapidly. The report deals with this problem by citing two studies that it claims buttress the validity of its own results. This claim is both wrong and misleading.

While Adler’s entire critique is damning (and accessible to non-specialists), point #1 just floors me.

Nowhere in any of the correspondence between Adler and Chetty et alia is there any serious effort to assess the power of test; Adler, on the other hand, has done those power calculations, and finds that the smaller dataset is about eight times larger than the minimal size required (Adler’s response to their response, erm…. is devastating). In other words, there’s no reason to discard the data for the 30 year olds, except for its inconvenience.

You don’t do science like this. Period.

This seems like a case where an initial, trumpeted finding, not confirmed by peer review, suddenly is confronted with additional data and falls apart.

In the entire history of science, this has never happened. I kid: it happens all the time. The question is, as a scientist, do you double down or admit that the effect is either very weak or non-existent? Human nature being what it is, the temptation is to double down, especially when you made your bones on this stuff (and the President mentioned your work!). Hell, senior researchers often don’t back off, until they are completely dogpiled.

At what point does the dam break? Just how many shoddy methods, misuses and misrepresentations of data, and the like before education reformers lose legitimacy? Good policy can’t be built upon incorrect science and evidence.

Sadly, I think there’s a long way to the bottom of that bottle.

Posted in Education, Statistics | 2 Comments

Links 7/30/14

Links for you. Science:

Just Because People Keep Asking…
The Server Needs To Die To Save The Internet
Absurd Creature of the Week: Satanic Leaf-Tailed Gecko Wears the World’s Most Unbelievable Camo (the second picture is amazing)
A world without statistics
Beneath the Forest, Buildings


Back in my day: A brief history of childhood and parenting in Post-Nixonian America (excellent)
An Open Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher
The “we like sex” argument is a winning one, so why are so many people afraid to use it?
Does the GOP really mean to bankrupt me, kill my daughter, or both?
This Is What Happens When A Texas Tea Party Rep Finally Stands Up For Refugee Children
Slumlord Millionaires: Wall Street’s new scheme to profit off poor people (no one could have predicted…)
Bring On Mika and Joe
Meritocracy won’t happen: the problem’s with the ‘ocracy’ (related post here)
The Existential Battle for the Soul of the GOP: What happens when extremism becomes mainstream?
Tea Party support linked to educational segregation, new study shows
Animation Show Metro’s Growth From 1976 To Today
I stand with Israel
When Rhode Island accidentally legalized prostitution, rape decreased sharply

Posted in Lotsa Links | 2 Comments

Silenced George

Observed at the corner of 15th and U Streets, Northwest D.C.:

Silent george

Posted in DC | 1 Comment

People Have to Like This Crap: The Working Class Vote Edition

Admittedly, Democratic politicians and political operatives almost uniformly fell out of the stupid tree and banged their heads on every damn branch on the way down, but one might think that even for these hapless fools enlightened naked self-interest would kick in at some point (boldface mine):

Mike Podhorzer crunched the numbers and found there’s one factor that, with eerie consistency, explains the way elections have swung for the past decade. Podhorzer, the political director of the AFL-CIO, is one of the top electoral strategists on the left. The crucial factor, he found, is Democrats’ vote share among voters making less than $50,000.

Republicans consistently win voters making $50,000 or more, approximately the U.S. median income. The margin doesn’t vary too much: In 2012, Mitt Romney got 53 percent of this group’s vote; in 2010, Republican House candidates got 55 percent. And Democrats consistently win voters making less than the median—but the margin varies widely. In fact, whether Democrats win these voters by a 10-point or a 20-point margin tells you who won every national election for the past decade….

“It doesn’t often get reported, but the key indicator that has been decisive for the last several elections is how people making below the median income vote,” Podhorzer said this week. Black or white, Asian or Hispanic, male or female, young or old, it’s that simple. To reach these voters, Podhorzer believes, candidates need to focus on the economic issues of the working class. “Economic populism decides who wins elections in America,” he said.

Have Democrats reached these voters? What the hell do you think happened? Of course not:

…I asked Pew to crunch the numbers for me. The result: 51 percent of voters making less than $50,000 plan to vote for Democrats, while 40 percent plan to vote Republican. (The rest are undecided, and the GOP wins the more-than-$50,000 vote 49-44.) That’s exactly the same 11-point margin that has meant Democratic doom in every election since 2004.

Yes, the Republicans have redefined the meaning of obstructionism. But the Democrats never had a plan, until very recently to point that out. There was no long game to force them to vote against popular bills over and over–and then hammer them on it. It’s not Green Lanternism to lay the cultural and intellectual groundwork for the case that the Republicans are in the damn way on everything. And now, the crazy party could take over. Awesome.

Posted in Democrats, Fucking Morons | Leave a comment

Links 7/29/14

Links for you. Science:

Why I like Frequentism
23andMe Tries to Woo the FDA: The DNA testing firm hopes a more coöperative approach with regulators will get its business back on track
Salmonella’s Favorite Food Could Be Its Achilles’ Heel
Why Has This Really Common Virus Only Just Been Discovered?
Mike Adams Elevates his Ugly Anti-GMO Campaign


The Limits of “Unlimited” (excellent)
Why George Takei loves America, even after he was held in a US internment camp
Meet Jess Spear, the Socialist Climate Scientist Running for the State House: She wants to put solar panels on roadways, end ‘corporate welfare’ and start talking about rent control.
‘Gas the Jews!’: European anti-Semitism during the Gaza crisis
What ‘No New Federal Spending’ Really Means: It’s time for the government to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to children.
Deep in the Tell-Tale Heart of the Texas GOP (yep, they’re bonkers)
A New Breed Of Conservatives Who Aren’t Anti-Gay
What I Saw on Rikers Island
7 Most Truthy NYT Columnists (the Krugman one made me laugh)
Coder livetweets sexist remarks allegedly made by IBM executives

Posted in Lotsa Links | 7 Comments