Links 9/3/15

Links for you. Science:

The True Story of Kudzu, the Vine That Never Truly Ate the South
Tea Party supporters distrust scientists not only on climate, but on vaccines
The Road to Hell is Paved with Bioinformatics Formats
Simple & elegant solution to a big problem in DNA based microbial diversity studies
A mess: PLOS mistakenly publishes rejected ADHD-herbicide paper, retracts it


“Pray to Play”: Jesus-loving coaches and the pervasive religiosity of American college football
Australia confiscated 650,000 guns. Murders and suicides plummeted.
Our Forgotten Labor Revolution
What Amazon Didn’t Understand About Overwork
The Case Against Cash Bail
America’s Great Infrastructure Stagnation: The entire system of fixing old roads and rails and financing new ones is breaking down—just ask Boston.
“we have learned that the derailment was caused by a combination of human error and flawed Metro processes”
Katrina and the lessons of incompetent crony governance
Protestors disrupt Hillary Clinton event over private prison fundraising
Tell Us What You Really Mean By “Political Correctness,” Conservatives!
Single Parents in College
Sales tax election to come down to one voter in failed gerrymandering attempt

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Observed Vermont Street between O and Logan Circle, D.C.:


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P-Hacking Is a Poor Reason For Replication Problems

With the recent release of the results from the Reproducibility Project–an effort to replicate 100 experimental findings in social psychology–there has been a lot of commentary and coverage about the finding that the majority of the studies failed to replicate. Most of the discussion I’ve seen has focused on issues such as selective reporting of positive results (and failing to report negative) and various forms of ‘p-hacking’ (p-hacking is where you attempt to tweak your analysis until you get a p-value of less than 0.05, which means that the probability that the effect you observe is due to random chance is less than five percent).

P-hacking could be the explanation, along with the Decline Effect. It doesn’t seem to be an issue of ‘pre-treating‘ the data, as the analyses appeared to performed using the same methods. But I’m always suspicious of pat, one-size-fits-all answers.

The less exciting, more difficult, yet far more interesting explanation–and one which might improve the quality of the science–has to do with methodology. To understand why two supposed replicates differed, we have to understand the experimental details, which is the antithesis of one-size-fits-all punditry. One methodological explanation is that what we thought were identical methods actually differed in subtle (to us, not the test subjects) ways. That’s really not a problem–we just have to develop better technique and control the variables better. This makes science better.

The more disturbing problem is that these could be inherently variable experiments. While in some theoretical sense, we could minimize variability if we understood every source of variation, in reality, that’s not possible. So some experiments are hard to reproduce. To use a genomics example (cuz everyone picks on psychology), the dirty secret of genome sequencing (for the cognoscenti, I’m referring to Illumina sequencing) is that we don’t get the same bacterial sequence twice. We get something really close: usually the genomic content might differ by a small fraction (two genomes will differ by ~0.0001%, give or take), and of the regions the two replicates share, there will often be a couple errors per million bases (there are ways to reduce the false positives in terms of the errors). But this level of variability–or ‘lack’ of reproducibility–is tolerable. But some fields–for that matter, some methods–might yield experiments that, at least today, produce much more variable and less reproducible results–and there isn’t a whole lot we can do about that. To the extent we can do something, these will be very domain-specific.

Put another way, every unreproducible experiment might be unreproducible in its own way.

Which doesn’t make for very easy punditry.

Posted in Philosophy Shit, Statistics | 1 Comment

Links 9/2/15

Links for you. Science:

Biologist Spots Rare Slimy Nautilus for First Time in 30 Years
UC San Diego Program Readies Grad Students For Jobs Outside Academia
Do Helix’s Numbers Work?
Here’s what happens when you try to replicate climate contrarian papers
FDA wants food companies to hand over their pathogens (bad title, interesting story)


Effects of Restrictive Licensing of Handguns on Homicide and Suicide in the District of Columbia (if only there were a policy or something we could do…)
Tech nerds are smart. But they can’t seem to get their heads around politics. (very good)
Martin O’Malley Proposes ‘Immediate’ Boosts To Social Security Benefits, Plus Other Expansion
Jorge Ramos Commits Journalism, Gets Immediately Attacked by Journalists
After 4 States Approved A Big Utility Merger, DC Shocked Everyone By Denying It Over Clean Energy
Democratic Party elites have abandoned public education
Why Fox News’ Defense Of Megyn Kelly Is Going To Backfire
Hurricane Katrina showed what “adapting to climate change” looks like
Political Flyer Circulated In Detroit Suburb: ‘Let’s Get The Blacks Out’
Cover of the Moral Majority Report from July, 1983
I Can’t Stop Reading One-Star Yelp Reviews of National Parks
What Country Are GOP Candidates Talking About?
Joint Employers
Nerds and Hacks Unite! You Have Nothing to Lose Except Your Chains.
Some are questioning whether all students should be on a college prep track (I do think we need to bring back vocational courses, very uncertain about vocational track)
Grumpy Cat is getting a wax statue at Madame Tussauds

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Disease Outbreak?

Observed on Sheridan Circle, Kalorama, D.C.:


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Looking For Political Love In All The Wrong Places

Ed at Gin and Tacos makes an excellent point that I’ve been struggling to put into coherent words (boldface mine):

One of the primary criticisms leveled at Sanders’ supporters is their reliance on the logic that while he might not be giving black activists much of what they want, there is no other candidate who comes as close to addressing these issues. In other words, Sanders is the best of what’s available so black voters should support him even if he doesn’t actually do much for them. He’s a “friend” to that portion of the electorate.

I understand reflexively why black activists find this response patronizing and unsatisfactory. What I don’t understand is how it differs fundamentally from what all of us – black, white, young, old, gluten intolerant – are told every time we suffer an election. Have you never been party to, either as the speaker or the recipient of wisdom, the “Well he’s better than Bush/McCain/Romney/Beelzebub” conversation? I’ve seen it here every time in the past decade that I’ve written something critical of the Democratic Party or its candidates…. If you stay home the Republicans win and then we’re really boned.

In that sense, the message Sanders and other Democrats have so relied upon over the past several decades is condescending and defeatist, but it isn’t uniquely condescending and defeatist to black voters. It’s a shit stew on which every voter with a more than casual interest in any issue that isn’t pre-approved by the Moneyed Interests must chow down every couple years. The activists and Sanders campaign critics are correct to point out that the issues in question were being ignored. But unless you’re in the NRA or fighting to increase the wealth of the oligarchy, everybody’s issues get ignored….

It is fair to say that since these issues are in a literal sense life and death issues for some people of color in this country that an extraordinary response should be forthcoming from Democratic candidates (Republicans can safely be presumed to make no response or an utterly terrible one). That is valid; I hope the leading Democratic candidates do take these issues seriously because that’s what serious issues deserve. But it certainly isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last, that candidates have half-assed an issue and fallen back on the “Well, who else are you gonna vote for, this is the best you’ll do” argument. When those activists said “We’re being ignored!” part of me thought, well, who isn’t? They’re correct to say that the system isn’t responsive to their interests because the system isn’t responsive to the vast majority of the electorate’s interests.

My support for Sanders is based on three things:

1) Clinton will be the eventual nominee.

2) Sanders is one way–not the only way–to put pressure on Clinton to adopt policies liked by the rank-and-file (could we for once, not have to fight our own party’s attempt to further shred what remains of the social safety net?).

3) A strong Sanders showing could–not necessarily will–force Clinton to lay down some very concrete markers on certain issues. This matters as there’s a ton of political science research that indicates presidents try very hard–and are often successful–at fulfilling major, specific campaign promises (Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” and Obama’s abandonment of the public option are notable exceptions).

I realize there are quite a few people who are ‘feeling the Bern’, but, for me, cranky old cynic that I am, this is entirely transactional: they’re using me, and I’m trying to use them.

If you want unconditional love, buy a puppy.

Posted in Bidness, Democrats | 4 Comments

Links 9/1/15

Links for you. Science:

Scientists consider captive breeding program for enigmatic little walking fish
Grantsmack: Overambitious
In the US, computer science is (unfortunately) a privilege
The growing global battle against blood-sucking ticks
White sky at night not a city bird’s delight


Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Are Calling for a Revolution: Differentiating between political revolutions real and counterfeit; those encouraging true activism and those hoping for applause.
I was a civil rights activist in the 1960s. But it’s hard for me to get behind Black Lives Matter. (not sure all of the complaints are legit, but interesting perspective; definitely shows the limits of testimonial reasoning)
Radical Sandcastles
Why Biden Would Be a TERRIBLE President
Cloud of sequestration looms over D.C. region
The FDA is making a big change to nutrition labels. And it’s probably a big mistake
Predicting Recessions The Easy Way: Monetarists, MMT, And The Money Stock
D.C. mayor to ask for expanded police powers amid homicide spike (can’t see what could possibly go wrong with that)
What People in One of America’s Richest Neighborhoods Say About the Homeless When They Think No One’s Watching
It’s More Expensive For a Family of Four to Live Comfortably in D.C. Than in New York, Analysis Finds
How companies make millions off lead-poisoned, poor blacks (horrifying)
Places Where I Don’t Want to Sit
Hey look, that flawed Texas A&M traffic study is back and grabbing the usual headlines (‘think’ tank follies!)
Narrow Roads Are Better Than Crosswalks
Firearm Violence Is Inherently Political
The Reactionary Soul

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