Monday, April 23, 2012

Demagoguery At Forbes: Education Edition

Here is a piece from someone claiming to be against "bad science."  Evidently, they don't include "bad social science" in that description:

Wow, no one saw this coming. The University of Florida announced this past week that it was dropping its computer science department, which will allow it to save about $1.4 million. The school is eliminating all funding for teaching assistants in computer science, cutting the graduate and research programs entirely, and moving the tattered remnants into other departments.

Let’s get this straight: in the midst of a technology revolution, with a shortage of engineers and computer scientists, UF decides to cut computer science completely?
save about $1.7 million
OK, Mr. Outraged, you tell me: How many majors was the UF computer science department producing? What was the quality of its graduate program? Will eliminating classes taught by grad student teaching assistants improve or worsen the quality of instruction?

The answers to the above questions are: Who knows; Who knows; and Probably improve. Without dealing with these fundamental questions there is no way to rationally assess the impact of this move by UF. Indeed, this entire piece is more about emotionalism than rational argumentation. Time for the non sequitar:

 Meanwhile, the athletic budget for the current year is , $97.7 million, an increase of more than $700,000 from last year.
$99 million
Ah, yes, the old bogeyman, college athletics. It's the eggheads favorite punching bag. Of course, as the writer had to ultimately admit, the athletic budget has nothing to do with the UF budget process for academics (oops), but, hey, it feels good to take the moral high ground against the dumb jocks. How enlightened.

But maybe there is a reason why this particular subject is being deemphasized at UF: (From the same freakin' article!!)

 Meanwhile, just two days ago, Florida governor Rick Scott approved the creation of a brand-new public university, Florida Polytechnic University, to be located near the city of Tampa.
Gee, could it be the state has decided not to have redundant departments, and instead will focus upon building the program at the Polytech? There is nothing special or magical about being the "flagship" campus that requires their program to be the prestige programs. Plenty of state university systems have other campuses which host the premiere programs in various subjects.

Maybe this is what is going on. Maybe it is not. From this Forbes article it is impossible to know. Then again, I think that maybe the point of this piece, i.e. to leave its reader uninformed but emotionally engaged. If that isn't demagoguery then nothing is.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thomas Friedman: Wile E. Coyote Op-Ed Writer

From one of the NY Times super-geniuses:

I had to catch a train in Washington last week. The paved street in the traffic circle around Union Station was in such poor condition that I felt as though I was on a roller coaster. I traveled on the Amtrak Acela, our sorry excuse for a fast train, on which I had so many dropped calls on my cellphone that you’d have thought I was on a remote desert island, not traveling from Washington to New York City. When I got back to Union Station, the escalator in the parking garage was broken. Maybe you’ve gotten used to all this and have stopped noticing. I haven’t. Our country needs a renewal.

Gee, that's a coincidence. I too was recently at Union Station in DC having caught the MARC train down from Baltimore where my wife and I stayed while she hits some libraries for a biography she is writing.

For those who do not know DC well, and as someone who lived there for eight years, let me fill you in on a couple things:

A) There is no traffic circle around Union Station (mostly because of all the train tracks coming into it.... duh.)

B) There is a traffic circle in front of Union Station.... well kind of. Columbus Circle isn't a traffic circle the way Dupont Circle is. In fact, it is less a traffic circle and more a traffic ampersand. (Strange but true.)

C) That traffic circle is currently being re-constructed. That is why its so bumpy.

D) Union Station itself is in the middle of a large renovation project. Maybe this could explain why Mr. Friedman was inconvenienced so by that faulty escalator. One can only hope he was able to extricate himself from the station in an unexerted state.

E) The wife and I used our phone, which uses the dodgier Virgin Mobile network to boot, along the line as far as Princeton Junction with nary a problem. Maybe Mr. Friedman should think about switching carriers.

F) I can't say anything about the Acela one way or the other. Normal people like us can't afford to take it. The slower trains we were on were clean and comfortable. Of course, without a quicker train we may have been forced to do without this particular piece of Mr. Friedman's work. Now that would have been a tragedy too terrible to contemplate.

I'm always suspicious of these personal anecdotes used to illustrate whatever point an Op-Ed writer is trying to make. I nearly always suspect they are BS. In this case I know it is BS because I was just there.

And, when we see one of the reasons why the road is bumpy and the escalators aren't necessarily working, etc. is that we are already doing the "renewal" the opinion piece claims we are not doing... well, its enough for me to just shake my head and say "Shut up."

Monday, April 16, 2012

Our Tax Future

Almost an actual proposal: Romney Specifies Deductions He'd Cut

Mitt Romney, speaking at a private fundraising event on Sunday, offered the first details of deductions he would eliminate or limit in order to offset the income tax cut he has proposed for all taxpayers.

Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, said he would eliminate or limit for high-earners the mortgage interest deduction for second homes, and likely would do the same for the state income tax deduction and state property tax deduction.

He also said he would look to the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development for budget cuts.

Mr. Romney discussed his plans while speaking to high-dollar donors at a private estate. During the backyard event, which could be heard by reporters outside on a public sidewalk, Mr. Romney offered policy specifics he has yet to unveil on the campaign trail.

Mr. Romney has pledged a 20% cut to income tax rates for taxpayers in all income brackets but has offered few details for how he would pay for the proposal. Mr. Romney also has vowed to bring federal spending under control, while offering few details on which programs he would cut.
The problem with all of these sorts of things is it is difficult to know what the impact will be at the level of the individual. Like most Americans I don't hold a mortgage on a second home, so there is no personal impact on my family there. However, I do itemize deductions including state income and property taxes. So I hear this proposal and I immediately think "Crap. I'll have to take the standard deduction."

But, what would the overall impact be?

It's hard to know exactly how the "20% cut to income tax rates for taxpayers in all income brackets" will be implemented, but right now my taxes came to 13% of taxable income. A 20% reduction in that rate would result in a 10.4% rate. However, using the standard deduction (sans the state income and property tax deductions) would raise my taxable income 3.5%.

The net result? Under Romney's plan my family would owe $1100 less in taxes.

I could live with that.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Q: How Do We Know Republicans Are Radically Right?

A: Their last two Presidential nominees will have been John McCain and Mitt Romney.

Wait.... what?

Never mind.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Democrats: We Have To Destroy The Country To Save It

I have no idea what this is all about. I can only assume they hyperventilated so much last week they suffered a lack of oxygen to the brain: Impeach the Supreme Court Justices If They Overturn Health-Care Law

The problem with the current court is not merely that there is a good chance it will strike down a clearly constitutional law. The problem is that this decision would be the latest salvo in what seems to be a sustained effort on the part of the Roberts Court to return the country to the Gilded Age.

Uh, ok. Good luck with that "argument." The problem with all of this is it is imbecility bordering on madness. Actually, in the case of historian David Dow, the author of the above, I'm pretty sure he jumped over the border, moved right into looney-toonsville, and built a duplex.

Why are we supposed to think Obamacare is "clearly" cconstitutional? Well, because Dow says it is. After all, who is the Supreme Court to argue with an historian!?! If only Dow had issued his inerrant proclamations earlier we could have foregone all these hearings and court dates and legal briefs and such.

Also, you may be surprised to know that in all the years before Obamacare was passed we were practicing "Social Darwinism." Yes, because those are the only choices. Obamacare or letting babies die in the streets. Who knew?

I'll tell you who it is a shame we cannot impeach; idiot professors whose intellectual dishonesty is only matched by their, to get all urban dictionary here, dumbassery. There are historical analogs to the good professor here. All of the blindly partisan Southern Democrats who sowed discord, bad logic and set the stage for the Secession movement and the Civil War would find a kindred spirit in David Dow. For all of their certainty in their moral righteousness they did nothing but harm to their country. The Dow's of our day haven't reached those depths yet, but they are working on it.


More craziness:

Here is CBS News's Jan Crawford on a federal appeals court's angry response to the gauntlet Pres. Obama threw down:

...Overturning a law of course would not be unprecedented -- since the Supreme Court since 1803 has asserted the power to strike down laws it interprets as unconstitutional...

What Jan Crawford does not mention here is that the judicial right that 1803 ruling asserted -- Marbury v. Madison -- has only been invoked once since 1803.
This seems to be claiming that the Supreme Court has only struck down a law as unconstitutional once in 209 years. Uh, wow.

I've tried to figure out an alternative rational meaning for this statement... I really have... but, damn it all, I can't come up with one. I've even considered the possibility they were trying to say something else and this just inexplicably appeared. No dice there either. The only thing I can think of is they were hacked and some devious person posted this to make them look like utter fools.

Sadly, I believe they mean every word of this.

A Post-Mortem On The 2012 General Election

I recently got this message from the future concerning our upcoming elections in November:

Worst. Election. Cycle. Ever.
You heard it here first.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Conservatives Are Less Trusting Of Science Because They Are More Rational

Among the authoritarian minded (i.e. American liberals to a man and woman) there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the recalcitrant American conservative who simply refuses to knuckle under and do what their betters tell them to do. This, we are told, is because conservatives are "anti-science." The real reason is conservatives are more likely to adhere to the skepticism inherent in rational scientific discourse, while liberals generally do not challenge the sources of authority because they have PhD's and attend all the right liberal cocktail parties (evidently.)

The problem, for liberals, arises when reality is examined, like in this story: In cancer science, many 'discoveries' don't hold up

A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on cancer -- a high proportion of them from university labs -- are unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the future.

During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn Begley identified 53 "landmark" publications -- papers in top journals, from reputable labs -- for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug development.

Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature....

Part way through his project to reproduce promising studies, Begley met for breakfast at a cancer conference with the lead scientist of one of the problematic studies.

"We went through the paper line by line, figure by figure," said Begley. "I explained that we re-did their experiment 50 times and never got their result. He said they'd done it six times and got this result once, but put it in the paper because it made the best story. It's very disillusioning."

Such selective publication is just one reason the scientific literature is peppered with incorrect results.

For one thing, basic science studies are rarely "blinded" the way clinical trials are. That is, researchers know which cell line or mouse got a treatment or had cancer. That can be a problem when data are subject to interpretation, as a researcher who is intellectually invested in a theory is more likely to interpret ambiguous evidence in its favor.

The problem goes beyond cancer.

On Tuesday, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences heard testimony that the number of scientific papers that had to be retracted increased more than tenfold over the last decade; the number of journal articles published rose only 44 percent.

Ferric Fang of the University of Washington, speaking to the panel, said he blamed a hypercompetitive academic environment that fosters poor science and even fraud, as too many researchers compete for diminishing funding.

"The surest ticket to getting a grant or job is getting published in a high-profile journal," said Fang. "This is an unhealthy belief that can lead a scientist to engage in sensationalism and sometimes even dishonest behavior."
Of course, such a situation could never take place if the basic tenets of science were being followed. Notice the problem is not with a bad paper here, or a rogue researcher there. The problem is systemic. In the face of such poor system-wide practices the only rational response is to doubt the validity of the research produced via faulty methods. Public opinion polling on the subject is clear; only conservatives express such doubt. Therefor, only conservatives are thinking and acting rationally on this matter.