Sunday, September 30, 2012

Weekend moment of Zen 9-30-12

I spent a whole summer making my way through Ulysses, and still had to read the Cliff's notes to figure out what the heck was going on....but the idea of turning books in to pie charts makes me pretty happy:

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Well, it's a gloomy weekend here, but luckily I have a good book to curl up with, thanks to my fabulous younger brother.  I've mentioned Nate Silver's 538 blog as one of my favorites for breaking down election/political statistics, and it turns out he has a new book out.  Before I could figure out if I wanted to buy it or not, it showed up at my door, courtesy of and my brother Tim.  Review to follow I'm sure.

Next, I set up a new email address for this blog, in case any of my wonderful readers should stumble across any studies you think would work well on this site.  My time has been a bit crunched post-baby, so I'd appreciate any interesting articles to spur more posting.  If you see one, feel free to send it to baddatabad at gmail dot com (or hit the email me button on my profile).

That's it for now, have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pacifiers and baby boys

I'm a bit behind on this one, but this study was too interesting to pass up.

Apparently, research suggests that pacifier use by boys limits their social development.

So we'll start with the bias alert.  I have a baby boy, and he does use a pacifier to help him go to sleep.  I didn't have any particular feelings about this, I just gave it a whirl and liked the way it helped him calm down when he was tired.  Give it 5 minutes, and he tends to spit it out and go to sleep.  That seemed rational to me, I actually was unaware there was much controversy about this until I got reading this article (reiterating Dubbahdee's point that I should never read parenting advice on the internet....oops).

Obviously, I don't yet know what his social development is going to turn out like (though at the moment he's astoundingly unsympathetic to my lack of sleep), but I generally hope it's okay.   End bias alert.

It took me a while to find the actual paper (why oh why do so many news sources not link to the actual paper????), but after scanning the whole thing I had a couple thoughts.

The headlines about this paper were stupid, of course.  The author actually had a pretty good theory based on actual science (babies learn emotions in part through mimicry, she wondered if a pacifier would make this harder for babies because their facial muscles were occupied), and of course it got over reported. Most headlines just mentioned "pacifier use" in general, but she clarifies pretty quickly that they only studied pacifier use during baby wake time....specifically excluding the type of pacifier use I described above (as a sleep aid).  This makes sense (the woman does have 3 boys herself after all) because you don't have to spend very long around babies before you realize they're probably not learning much when they're trying to fall asleep.  They're mostly just crying.

Anyway, the set up for the study was pretty good.  They assessed both 6 and 7 year olds and their emotional reactions vs pacifier use, and then later college students who were questioned about their history of pacifier usage to tie it to adult development.

For that second, I was curious about the length of pacifier use we were talking about, as this was based on the recollection of college students and their parents, and I was wondering how accurate that would be.  This graph sums it up nicely:

I'm not familiar with the emotional intelligence scale they're using, so I'll take their word for it that 4.7 to 4.4 is statistically significant....but wow, daytime use of a pacifier until 5 years of age?  That does seem like it should cause some concern.  Also, it seems as those the recollection bias here would be clustered at either end.  Parents would remember more accurately either remarkably short or remarkably long pacifier use...but that's just a guess.

Overall, I thought it was annoying that "daytime use of pacifiers until kindergarten" got labeled as just "pacifier use", but I thought the research was certainly intriguing.  I especially liked that they tested both younger children and adults to help prove their theory, as emotional development is most definitely a complex process that takes decades to work through.

What I actually liked about this study the most was Ann Althouse's take on it.  She wondered if this meant you could stop overly emotional women from being overly emotional by giving them Botox so they couldn't mimic those around them.  I'd say it's worth a shot.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Don't believe everything you read on the internet...

....or in print apparently.  Not really data, but a retraction too good not to share (via Buzzfeed):

Think I'll have myself a beer

Well, I made it through the first work "week", though not without getting on the wrong commuter rail on the way home and winding up quite a few miles away from anywhere familiar.  Did I mention I then got threatened by a 14 year old who seemed to think I was mildly out of line for being at the train stop when she wanted to smoke pot there with her friends?  Because I did.  Sigh*.

Given all that, this chart from the Economist seemed appropriate.
I like this graphic because it juxtaposes two interesting things....average wages and the price of alcohol.  I had no idea the Brits and Aussie's were paying so much for their booze, but it's interesting to see how well the developed world still comes out in this.

I did have to wonder whether this was average beer prices or lowest cost beer, and for what region.  I actually am allergic to beer, so I'm not sure if that $1.80 for 500 mL (17 oz or so) is accurate or common.  Seemed a bit low to me, but it's likely because it's part of a retail price for a six pack, not the bar prices I've seen.

Regardless, I was glad to see that if I needed to do some drinking, I'm apparently in the right country for it.

*In case you're curious how I fared in this encounter with the Roslindale hooligans, the answer is strangely.  I was pretty over the top upset about the train thing (it was unmarked with a broken PA system so I couldn't even correct my mistake quickly as they weren't announcing any stops).  In my tired still post-partum hormonal state, I really couldn't handle this child attempting to impress her friends, and ended up rolling my eyes at her and walking off with a "Fine, whatever".  I think she was genuinely surprised by that response, couldn't think of a comeback and then I was gone.  It occurred to me later that I had quite possibly just out teenagered a teenager.  

Ultimately, my very sweet husband came and found me, which was quite nice of him.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Workin' for the Man

I'm headed back to work today.  It's a bit early, but in exchange I get to work part time through Thanksgiving.

Given that, I thought this headline made for a good blog post today: "Is Opting Out the New American Dream for Working Women?".  In a survey by ForbesWomen and, they found that:

84% of working women told ForbesWoman and TheBump that staying home to raise children is a financial luxury they aspire to.What’s more, more than one in three resent their partner for not earning enough to make that dream a reality.

Subsequently I saw several bloggers reference the fact that "84% of women want to be stay at home moms", so I decided to do a little digging.  What did this survey really say?  Well, Forbes published more about the survey here.

Weirdly, in that recap, the only time the 84% number is mentioned is in reference to women believing staying at home is a financial luxury, leading me to be more than a little curious as to how they phrased the question.  Do 84% of women actively want to stay at home, or do 84% of women wish they had enough money that they got to make the choice?  This quote from the article lead me to believe perhaps we were really discussing something rather than prioritizing staying at home with the kids:
As one (working) mom of two told me, she may dream of leaving work to take care of her kids, but the (financial) reality of it is not so ideal. “Sure, if my husband made so much money that I could spend time with the kids, still afford great vacations and maybe the occasional baby sitter to take a class or go out with friends, I’d be the first to sign up,” she said. “So maybe while it’s a luxury I do think about, it’s not one I would want unless it was actually luxurious. I don’t want to be a stay at home mom who clips coupons or plans her weekly menu to make ends meet… If that’s the case, I’d gladly go on working to avoid that fate.”
So it sounds like at least some of the respondents were focused less on wanting to opt out of the workplace to raise their kids, and more on wanting to have enough money to keep their standard of living while not feeling pressured to work.  Two slightly but significantly different things IMHO.  I have rarely seen a stay at home mom who didn't strive to make the household more financially efficient while at home, so this dream seemed a bit divorced from reality. This is backed up by the survey's additional result that only half of working women think they'd be happier if they stayed home.  I'd also guess most of us would be happier if we had enough money to completely call the shots regarding where we worked.

Of course none of this addresses the totally skewed sample that comes from two websites joining up to do a survey like this.  Doubtless ForbesWomen/TheBump do not attract a random crowd.  Additionally, it should be concerning to our sense of family that 1/3 of women are resenting their husbands for not making more money....though to note the survey used the phrase "sometimes resent" while the article merely used "resent".

A side note about this of the last questions was about how much women spent on themselves per month.  Most (63% of working moms, 78% of stay at home mom's) said they spent less than $100 a month on themselves.  Every time I see a question like this, I always wonder where people count cable TV and haircuts.  When I was getting my degree, they mentioned that during premarital counseling you should always ask the woman how much she thought a reasonable haircut cost.  Apparently that one expenditure can cause a lot of fights.  I definitely know women who believe a basic haircut costs $80 or more.

All that being said, I'm going to miss my little monkey today, but I'm happy to have a job I love to go back to, I don't resent my husband, and I think a reasonable haircut for a woman costs $40.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rule 6D

After yesterday's post about "the way things were" I thought of one more subreason why this isn't always a strong argument.

I've been reading the Game of Thrones series, as have many folks in my general set of friends.  For those of you who haven't read the books, they're set in a psuedo-middle ages fantasy realm (summer lasts for 9 years, dragons exist, etc).  Anyhow, twice in the past few months I've gotten in to a discussion about the books in a group and had someone mention "how awful things were back then".  Each time of course, someone pointed out that these books are not historical fiction and not meant to be an accurate representation of any time period.  Of course the person making the mistake laughed.

These are not intentional gaffes, but strongly written fiction can convince us we learned something about a way of life that may or may not have existed.

It's often mentioned in Christian circles that more of our visuals of hell come from Dante's Inferno than from Biblical description.

The point is, when you have a strong picture in your mind about a time period, make sure it didn't just come from a good book.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rule #6

Since posting my 5 rules for reading science papers online, I've been pondering if I missed anything.  Something  in Erin's comment on the matter about "experts" tearing in to new mother's because they didn't feed their child organic yak's milk from a glass bottle with a hemp nipple reminded me of a whole genre of ridiculousness I missed.

          6. Be very wary of those whose main argument is "we did this for thousands of years so it must be the best way of doing things".   Now listen, I actually don't mind this logic for lots of things.  I confess, I'm one of those people who likes more natural things in general (ESPECIALLY peanut butter.  I HATE peanut butter with anything other than peanuts and salt.)  So I get why the train of though appeals to people.  HOWEVER, in the absence of supporting evidence, it's not a real argument most of the time.  There's a couple of subreasons for this:
  • Most people saying this don't actually know how many people did whatever they're claiming or for how long.  They're not anthropologists.  To say that all primitive people ate this or raised their children like that is probably a bit reductionist.  
  • The lifespan in "the good old days" was abysmal.  Yes, they might have fed their infants yak's milk or eaten saber tooth tiger raw, but many of those children died before the age of 5.  It's called "survivor bias", and it means you have to be careful to remember that you only get to see how the people that lived through the whole thing turned out.  Some advances in technology are pretty categorically good, and if you're going to try to live more "back to the earth" you should remember that you're probably going to have to be a little selective about this if you want to live past 35 or so.
  • Lots of practices from ancient times are dismissed pretty out of hand these days, we're selective about the ones we glorify.  I remember the first time I really read the Bible's retelling of the Moses story and had to ask my mother what a "wet nurse" was.  I was horrified.  Most people today who go with "natural" practices would never consider handing their child off to a stranger to breastfeed, and yet other practices are held up as the ideal.  Our forefathers/foremothers got a lot of things wrong.  On second thought.....I feel the whole wet nurse comeback is due for a comeback....anyone want to try to write a book for rich parents about how this is what you'd do if you really loved your child?
I'm sure there's more, but now I have a craving for yak's milk.  I hope my local Whole Foods is open early.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On Romney

I'm posting about Romney to mention that I'm not commenting on Romney.

I've posted before about the stat on people not paying federal income tax...that stat's been out there forever. The issue here seems to be completely on interpretation of that stat and what it means for voting.  I don't do interpretation, I just do numbers.


Monday, September 17, 2012

5 rules for reading "scientific papers" online

This weekend I stumbled in to a very dark place on the internet.

It wasn't political, oh no, it was something much much scarier, with far more demeaning adherents.

It was the world of parenting theory.

I'm not going to name the theory, because quite frankly, I'm afraid they'd find me....but lets just say it's considered pretty fringe by most people.  Don't tell them that though, they went after critics (and even people just asking questions about tiny modifications) with a viciousness that made CNN commenters look rational.

Anyway, as a response to many questions, they kept linking to a paper by a doctor who was part of their movement to prove any and all points.  Finally, I decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

I won't link to it here, because I am seriously scared of these folks, but the paper got me thinking about how often this sort of thing appears on the internet, and things people should look for when consuming "scientific research" that shows up on random websites.  Many readers of this blog are probably already good at this, but for those who may not be so savvy, here we go:

  1. Remember that pretty much anything can call itself a "scientific paper". When I clicked on the link above, I was surprised to find it was really just an opinion piece by a doctor.  While I'll take it at face value that she actually exists and has the credentials she claimed, this was not a peer reviewed paper published in a journal.  That's fine, but calling it a "scientific paper" definitely gave it a little more credit than it's like calling something in the supermarket "natural".  It sounds good, and you think you know what it means, but there's really no standard for it.
  2. Beware people who jump around a lot.  I don't mean to be picky, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out what the point of this paper was.  There was no thesis statement, just lots of disjointed "some critics say this" followed by some anecdotes and then the next topic.  It doesn't sound that bad, but believe me, it was.  When I finished I went back through and realized that she was giving just enough rebuttal to raise doubt, but moving on before she had to make a full argument.  Any one of her comebacks would have fallen apart if it had been responded to, but by jumping around with her topics it made you forget what you were objecting to.  Haven't we all had an in person argument like this?  Where the person never responds to a counter argument, they just throw another objection at you?
  3. Follow up on citations.  I had a few minutes to kill while I was reading this paper, so I decided to actually follow the citation trail she gave for her points.  It was amazing how few of them said what she said they said.  Many of them were close, but a few were downright deceptive.  This was uncovered merely by reading the abstract.  I can only conclude they were either mistaken links or the author thought no one would follow up.
  4. Don't presume the citation supports the entire sentence.  This was the most deceptive part of the paper.  At least twice there was a sentence that said something like "You should do A because A leads to B which helps with C and that prevents D from happening, as researcher X has proved"  Now none of these were intuitive connections, all were based on her particular strategy.  When I followed up on researcher X's work, all the paper said was that C prevented D....which was the least controversial statement.  She offered no actual proof that her methods A and B would actually increase C...but her links implied it was there.
  5. Watch out for nitpicking. I know, I'm the last one who should call someone out for nitpicking other people's studies.  However, this is a favorite technique of those trying to prove a point.  They take opposing research, point out a weakness, then proclaim the study invalid because of this.  The problem is that some of it doesn't actually make studies invalid.  Sometimes it's minor things like "those studies on gender pay gap didn't include transgendered persons so they don't really prove anything!".  In this case she faulted the opposition for using too narrow of a definition for one of her recommended practices, and then two paragraphs later mentioned that the narrow definition was really the one she advocated for.
While I stumbled on these in parenting theory, I've seen similar on nutrition/lifestyle websites in particular.  I'm sure there are other examples and other rules.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


I got an email that my post from yesterday was having trouble accepting comments.

Regardless, Catie J had a good question as to whether the 35+ hour people evaluated were salaried, hourly, or both.

From what I can tell of individual studies, everyone is lumped together....including those who work for commission, bonuses, or those who bill hourly/by procedure as well (therapists, lawyers, MDs....).

One other interesting factor I've read is that many women are likely to take pay cuts in order to carry the health benefits for their household.  I have only anecdotal evidence, but when I've mentioned the "construction worker husband admin assistant wife" combo, most people I talk to have examples at their work places of the same thing.  In these cases, the husband out earns the wife monetarily, but not in total compensation.

I have no idea how big of an effect this has on earnings, but with the ACA still standing and the cost of health care continuing to rise, subsidized health insurance should not be left out of income calculations for much longer, if we want to truly see what's going on.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Gender pay gap - Categories and equivalencies

Amy Alkon (aka the Advice Goddess) had an interesting piece over on her blog about the gender pay gap stat that keeps getting floated around.  By the way, if you're at all libertarian leaning and hate the TSA, she's a good read.

Anyway, I've posted before about the gender pay gap stat, and how it's fairly deceptive, but her post triggered a point I hadn't thought about previously.  Apparently the stat (that women make 75-81 cents per dollar that men make) is based on full time year round workers.  Alkon quotes another article that mentions that "full time" means anything over 35 hours.  

Now obviously this accounts for some of the disparity in pay gap.  We all know high achievers who work 70 hours a week, and to lump them in with those working 35 is silly.  

It's an interesting study in categories though.  When I took my assessment class in grad school, the professor showed us a study that had been done on the number of sex partners a person had.  The options were:
  1. 0
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4+
He pointed out two issues with this setup.  First, is there truly a meaningful difference between those who had 2 partners and 3?  How about those who had 3 partners and "4+"?  Is everyone with 4 or more partners really equal?

This mirrors the paycheck issue pretty well.  We'd all expect someone work 40 hours to make more than someone working 20 hours, but none of the calculations take in to account that someone working 60 hours will also make more than someone working 40 hours.  Alkon also links to this piece by Kay Hymowitz that gives this quote:
In 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 27 percent of male full-time workers had workweeks of 41 or more hours, compared with 15 percent of female full-time workers; meanwhile, just 4 percent of full-time men worked 35 to 39 hours a week, while 12 percent of women did. Since FTYR men work more than FTYR women do, it shouldn’t be surprising that the men, on average, earn more.
She also mentions the term "proofiness"....the use of misleading statistics to confirm what you already believe. Love that.

Anyway, I'm all for equal pay for equal work, but only if we're really talking about equal pay AND equal work.

Bad categories, bad.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursday Quote of the Day

"Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write." – H.G. Wells

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Odds and ends

A few good links from readers:

A good piece from the Assistant Village Idiot on zero points in graphs.  Especially in an election year, I've been seeing a lot of these graphs with deceptive scales.  Axes matter.

From Dubbahdee, a link entitled "The Most Dishonest thing Fox News Has Ever Done".  I can't say I watch Fox news (or any other network for that matter), but I'll agree this was pretty darn deceptive.   In an attempt to show the worsening economy, they reported the official unemployment rate from 2009 with the "real' unemployment rate from 2012...making it look like unemployment had doubled in the last three years.  Aren't there enough real problems going on to keep them busy?

From my dear brother, Scientific America's piece on the political candidates view on science/science policy. Disgustingly full of rhetoric, but interesting nevertheless.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kids these days

There's a certain brand of newspaper headline that used to really annoy me when I was a teenager.  At the time I dubbed them "kids these days" headlines....essentially headlines that play to older people's love of fretting over how bad things are in the younger generation.  Prime examples are pretty much on repeat: they're lazy, they're not getting the education the older generation got, they're irresponsible, they're selfish, they like bad music.

I'm over a decade removed from teenagerhood, but my gosh do I still hate those headlines.   I am pretty much of the opinion that every generation has their own pluses and minuses, and we all need to chill out.  Headlines that say "hey, this new generation really figured out a bunch of stuff our target demographic totally screwed up" are just not going to sell.  

ANYWAY, I saw a good example of this in USA Today (via Instapundit)  with the headline "Younger people expect inheritance that won't exist".  

Oh those darn kids!  Always expecting their parents to support them.  Entitled whipersnappers!

First off, this was based on a study done by TD Ameritrade.  For all the issues I have with academic studies, studies done by companies trying to sell you something are even worse.  Also, they almost never release their source data.  

You don't have to look far to see where this one got ridiculous:
Nearly 40% of Generation Z, those ages 13 to 22, expect to receive an inheritance, according to a recent TD Ameritrade study. As a result, they don't believe that they will need to save for retirement.
Seriously? They asked 13 to 22 year olds about their retirement saving ideas and then report that their expectations are unrealistic?  I would be more weirded out if the study had shown that 40% of them had a comprehensive plan in place.  Most 13 to 22 year olds haven't entered the full time workforce yet.

I mean, my retirement accounts are doing fairly well thank you very much, but I opened the first one when I was exactly know, after I got my first post college full time job.  Coincidentally, that was also the first time I gave any serious thought to the entire concept of retirement.

They don't provide any information about the age distribution of the respondents, but if it was even, 40% of kids in a group of that age range would be 13 to 16.  I've never parented a teenager, but it strikes me that most parents of kids in that age range probably aren't having in depth discussions with them about their financial situation, and certainly not about their retirement savings.  Even those who are teaching financial lessons to their kids probably limit their disclosure about specific numbers.  Asking kids in that age range to have an educated opinion about this is ridiculous.

One more thing....I don't know what kids they polled for this study.  However, the chances that an investment firm polled children of it's own clients is pretty high.  Parents who have investment firm accounts are probably more likely to actually be leaving their kids an inheritance, correct?  It's suspicious to me that they go from their own specific study to a "in general parents aren't leaving their kids money".  How about the kids of these parents?

Alright, that's all I can say without seeing how this study was actually done.  Now get off my lawn.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Brief update

Leave it to xkcd to post a comic that perfectly describes my life right now.

Still trying to figure out when to blog, but his lordship seems to be sleeping in progressively longer bouts, so I may get some time back soon.

I'm feeling very motivated to post regularly again, as my brother let me know this morning that I have in fact made a difference in the world.  He's currently an executive producer on a new film about poverty in America, and apparently felt one of the stats the filmmaker used was a bit fishy.  He looked up the source and felt it was a deceptive stat, and asked her not to use it.  Then he called me and told me about it.  I feel I've accomplished something here.

If your curious, the movie is here:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Never go with facts when a pre-existing narrative will do....

Well, the Republican National Convention has come and gone, and I have been too busy with house guests and the new little darling to even watch the much talked about Clint Eastwood speech.  So I can't say I had been too on top of things, though I was a bit surprised to see the headline that the reality show (which I have also not seen) "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo" had beat the RNC in the ratings.

This morning, in a quiet moment, I was perusing the internets, and found an interesting note in a Gawker article about that headline:
The Hollywood Reporter story titled "Honey Boo Boo Ratings Top the Republican National Convention" that perpetuated this myth went on to state that this victory was in the demographic of adults 18-49, and this results from coverage of the convention being spread over multiple channels. "Aggregate coverage of the RNC across networks obviously eclipsed Honey Boo Boo considerably," Michael O'Connell wrote. Obviously. Considerably.
The media LOVES stories of increasing American ignorance and the decline of civilization.  So much so that they'll rearrange their own numbers to prove how bad things are getting.

It's quite the racket really....create a reality show, report on how this brings media to a new low, then hype it up so people watch it, then start writing stories about how people are watching it.