Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sweden and rape

I've written before about the dangers of comparing international data, but a recent stat floating around reminded me that it's not just public health data that's tough to compare.

There's a stat going around about the rapid increase in Swedish sexual assault.  The article shows this graph:
Which purports to show a 500% increase in sexual assault...with a particular rise between 2004 and 2005 (I don't speak Swedish, so if this graph is actually about something else, my apologies).

Anyway, I vaguely remembered around the Julian Assange case that there was some assertion that the Swedes had a particularly broad definition of rape, so I went digging to see if I could find anything about what was going on.

I found this report from the BBC, which included this tidbit:
"But the major explanation is partly that people go to the police more often, but also the fact that in 2005 there has been reform in the sex crime legislation, which made the legal definition of rape much wider than before."

Apparently the Swedes also count sexual assault by individual act, even if the incidents were by the same perpetrator (ie if she was assaulted twice in one night, that's two the US we count people reporting they've been raped as one per person), though it's unclear when that counting convention started.  There has also been a major push to attempt to increase reporting rates and increase police knowledge around the subject.

According to this Amnesty International report, there likely has been a real rise, though likely not as dramatically as the chart above would suggest.  Apparently the number of cases being brought to trial has risen, but the conviction level has stayed fairly steady.

Off topic, but the BBC article above also points out that Australia and Canada have the highest kidnapping rates in the world, in large part because they count custody dispute issues (where one parent takes the child during non custodial time) as kidnapping incidents.  Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Poison: the preferred weapon of women, cravens and eunuchs

A couple of weeks ago I was watching something - can't remember what - and I heard someone casually mention that someone who had been poisoned was likely killed by a woman.  It's a trope I've heard before (both Sherlock Holmes and Ned Stark both assert this), but for some reason I'd never questioned it.  Anyway, I put it on my mental list of "things to google" before promptly forgetting about it until I saw this Wired magazine post.

In it, Deborah Blum (author of the Poisoner's Handbook) asserts that homicide by poison is much more likely to be committed by a man (60.5%) than by a woman (39.5%), and that therefore the idea that poison was a woman's weapon was false.  Her numbers come from this report...snapshot here:

Weapon          Male         Women
Gun homicide   92.1%      7.9%
Arson              78.8          21.2
Poison             60.5          39.5

So women are less likely than men to poison, but they are better represented in that group than the two others in the report.  But I got curious....what does this mean in terms of absolute rates?  From the way the data's presented, it does appear that if a woman murders, there's a good chance she used poison....but is this true?

I took a look at the FBI crime database to see what the absolute numbers were.  The numbers above are for the years 1980-2008, and this report is for 2006-2010, but my guess is the order of magnitude holds.  

For 2006-2010, there were 47,856 gun homicides, 505 fire/arson, and 49 poisonings.  So despite the lower percentage, women are still almost 200 times more likely to kill using a firearm than poison*.  So basically, there is no base rate fallacy going on here.  If you hear someone was poisoned, it's more likely a male did it (at least for the years listed), and if you hear a women killed someone, poison was not her most likely method.  

Of course poison may have fallen out of fashion a bit, so this trope could have been true in Sherlock Holmes' day, and all bets are off in the fictional world of Game of Thrones.  In case you're curious, the FBI does not appear to keep data on crimes committed by eunuchs, so I can't verify any of that.

*This may be skewed, as it is far more likely that some poisonings got missed by coroners than gunshots...but I doubt the missed cases would make up much of the difference. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Statistics 101

The Assistant Village Idiot has up a short and sweet post on proof:

Whenever I come across the word proves in a news story or a comment section, I usually think "Here's someone who didn't take enough math courses."

I feel the same way when some says "that's statistics 101".

Example: I was reading a story recently on a particular type of forensic testing that was coming under some question (I was a lab tech in a former life, these things interest me).  Anyway, the study author was quoted as saying that 15% of the samples they were able to test showed some contamination, with the caveat that only one third of the samples in storage were still testable and thus the percentage could be subject to change.

When I was reading the comments section, one of the commenters got quite irate that this was being presented as only a 15% potential error rate.  Since only a third of samples were tested, he claimed we should actually multiply by 3 to get the real error rate....45%.  That's Statistics 101! 

Sadly this is a blog with lots of angry and under educated commenters*, so the next 3 follow up comments were all along the lines of "nice catch".

Math, it's how you know when people are lying to you (but only if you do it correctly).

*This is another "not going to link to it for fear of track-back vitriol" blog citation.  But if you're curious, it's a blog tackling the issue of false criminal accusations.  While it's a real and important issue, it does attract a good number of irrational people who hate the world and leave comments expressing their feelings quite....disturbingly.  The guys who run it seem pretty fair though, and I like reading the forensics aren't perfect stuff, CSI be damned.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Let's get ready to rumble!

For those of you who are more recent readers, you likely don't know that in a former life I attempted to start a wrestling blog.  

I happen to enjoy professional wrestling pretty tremendously, and though I could never quite find the time/energy/consistent topical flow necessary to keep a whole blog going, I still get a kick out of some of the posts I did there.  

I bring this up because tonight is my absolute favorite wrestling pay-per-view of the year, the Royal Rumble, and I will be watching while catching up on some stats homework.  

The Royal Rumble is named after the marquee match of the show, a 30 (sometimes 40) man battle royal.  Participants enter the ring at various time intervals (normally every 60 - 120 seconds) and eliminate other contestants by throwing them over the top rope.  Last man standing wins.  

This setup lends itself to some of the best statistics in sports entertainment* as this webpage shows.  Entrant #27 is the most likely to win (4 times) followed by #24 (3 times) and #1 and #30 (2 winners each).  

Anyway, if you're surprised by the fact that I like wrestling, and would like to know the statistical probability of me being a wrestling fan, I did a post on that here. If you're feeling more political, here's my take on which wrestler I think various Republican media figures would be if they had to be wrestlers.

And just for giggles, here's the number one anti smoking PSA of all time:
Alright, less than 30 minutes til start time, I'll let you know who wins.   

*That's what you call a sport whose outcomes are all predetermined....not fake mind you, predetermined.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Five reasons to check the footnotes

I was flipping through the Volokh Conspiracy yesterday when I stumbled upon an article that revisited an incident involving their contributor Jim Lindgren.  

Apparently about a decade ago, there was a book out that claimed that very few people in early America owned guns, and therefore the 2nd amendment couldn't possibly have meant that individuals should have had the right to own personal firearms.  Upon closer examination however, most of his footnotes and sources were fabricated.  Lindgren was a co-author on the article that took the book author down and completely turned his point against him....all because they actually bothered to track down the small print.

Interesting stuff.

If you really disagree with something, it's always worth checking out the footnotes for a few things:
  1. That the source cited actually exists
  2. That the source cited backs up the part of the sentence that really needs backing up.
  3. That the source cited actually backs up the thing it's being used to back up, and doesn't just reference it obliquely.
  4. That the source cited states the point as strongly as the article authors state it.
  5. That the reference isn't so old as to be outdated, replaced, or from a paper that has been unreplicatable.
I'm not saying everything you disagree with can be undone using these, but it's pretty amazing how many citations don't pass these 5 tests.  

Spam notice

Just wanted to let you all know that I just released quite few comments from the spam folder.  Not entirely sure what happened, but I was getting notification for comments that were subsequently not appearing on the blog, including some from regular readers (karrde in particular seemed to have a few routed that way).

Anyway, I found them all in the spam folder, and made sure they got posted.

This also explains why there are a few right answers for yesterday's brain teaser.....Eric's answer was one of the ones that got caught up in the filter, and thus wasn't there when Geek Vader got it right, even though it's time stamped several hours before.

I'll be more vigilant about this in the future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wednesday Brain Teaser 1-23-13

When I was younger I used to spend a pretty strange amount of time reading through brain teaser books. As such, I occasionally hear a brain teaser and know the answer without being able to remember how in the world you get there. That's what happened with today's teaser.... I heard it on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast this morning, answered immediately, then spent the rest of the train ride working out why I was right.  I got there somewhere near Hyde Park.

Lets see how you do:  A jeweler has 9 pearls, all identical shape and feel.  He knows one weighs slightly more than the other 8, but all he has to measure with is a balance scale (one with two arms that compares weights to each other). What is the minimum number of times he needs to use the scale in order to figure out for certain which is the heavy pearl?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

40 years of Roe v Wade

Roe vs Wade turns 40 today, and whatever you think of it, I hope you can appreciate that this is an effective graphic (from the Pew Research Center, via WaPo)
As a data stickler who's the daughter of a legal technicality stickler, I have to point out that the overturning of Roe v Wade would not actually make abortion illegal, but actually return it to a state issue.  I'm curious what percent of the respondents in this poll knew that, and if it would have changed the stats any.

Also, I love the PRC....including the question wording and categories at the bottom of the infographic?  Awesome.

One more thing....any of my more legally minded readers want to fill me in on the thinking behind the 4%?  That's the only view I've never heard IRL.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Who are you? (Who who, who who?)

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about data and using the internet, I tend to get pretty interested in how internet companies are using data to think about me.  

In this era of data tracking, I think it's interesting to try to visualize what the algorithms are saying about you. As such, I like to keep things a bit varied, just to keep them on their toes a bit.  This is why my morning reading tends to be spread out over a wide spectrum:  Slate, Instapundit, Reason magazine, Gawker, Jezebel, WaPo, and the occasional TMZ.  

I had gotten in to this after reading a Wired magazine article that talked about how Google actually predicts your demographics based on what you search for most often and what websites you routinely visit.  At the time, they had me I decided I had to branch out a bit.  

I was thinking of this recently when I had a conversation with someone about this blog.  They asked who it was geared towards and I replied that I tried to make it for everyone, but it's seemed to particularly appeal to conservative-leaning middle aged males.  Of course I quickly realize that could just be who comments....and I got to kind of wishing that Google would mash-up their predictions and give me their best guess at the actual demographics.  Which of course reminded me that I should check my own again.

Guess what?

As of today, January 21st, Google is pretty sure I'm a 55-64 year old male.  

To be fair, they're only 2 to 3 decades and one X chromosome off (if you're curious what you are and you have a Google account click here).

So now I'm this because I added more conservative sites in to the mix?  Is this because my commenters who send me links tend to be in this demo and thus I'm getting categorized by proxy?  GOOGLE WHAT WENT WRONG????  WHY AM I TURNING IN TO MY FATHER???  IS IT BECAUSE I TITLE BLOG POSTS AFTER SONGS THAT CAME OUT IN 1978???

Oh, and by the by, Google would not even hazard a guess at what any of my interests are, though they have a spot for it.  

So, who does Google think you are?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Fun Links 1-17-13

I was curious what Nate Silver was going to do until the next campaign season started....analyzing growth in government spending seems like a great project to me.

Also from the NYT, an interactive pick your own New York based basketball team game.  I'm thinking Kareem's the first pick I'd make.

I've already started scouring Craigslist and yardsales for Legos, so I was interested to see this article on why they're so popular (yeah, I'd say they're for the little lord but I am STOKED to get to play with them again).

This blog picks a random spot every day and takes a picture of it.  Surprisingly fascinating.

And just because it's Friday, the 40 best dog GIFs of all time.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Where have all the cowboys gone?

I ran in to this post on Ann Althouse's blog yesterday, and was intrigued by her comment that ladies looking for a man should move away from the east coast. She linked to a map from the NYT that showed where the unmarried men in the 18-34 demographic tended to live, and indeed at the top of the list were states like Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota.

After taking a look at the map and accompanying graph though, I was a little baffled by her follow up:
But you guys, in New York and Massachusetts (and #1, my home state, Delaware), you have rich pickings in the female-heavy disproportion, where you can continue to behave in ways that women will angst over in the pages of the New York Times, which the guys in North Dakota and Alaska and Wyoming probably don't read, but if they did, would they shed a tear for you?
Being a Massachusetts resident who hasn't been on the dating market in a few years, I was curious how bad our "female-heavy disproportion" I scrolled down.  I was a little surprised to find out that every single state in the nation has more young unmarried men than women.  I normally like Althouse quite a bit, and I was a little surprised to see this oversight there*.  I immediately checked the comments and found that it took over 30 comments before someone even mentioned the numbers, and it was around comment 60 that someone finally spelled out that men were actually the majority everywhere (at least on the state level).  In case you're curious, feminists were directly blamed for making women the majority in comment 6.

Since that part had already been corrected in the comments by the time I got there, I added this:
From the 2010 census, the population of Massachusetts is 8 times the population of North Dakota...and it's 25-34 year old population is 10 times as large. If you assume half of people in that demographic are single (just to pick a random number), then Massachusetts would actually have 193,000 more single men than North Dakota even though Massachusetts has a lower percentage.  So basically, your odds might be slightly worse, but your selection is much bigger. Which you prefer probably depends on what you're looking for.
I always find it a little fascinating when people default to presuming the "odds" model of dating works better than the "numbers" method.....because in real life most people use the numbers method.  Young people tend to move to cities, then back out once they're married.  When you're only looking for one, numbers matter more than odds.

Oh, and in case you're curious about the cities she was presumably referencing, here's the city data.  Men still outnumber women in Boston, and in most cities actually.  Even NYC is more even than many would have you believe.

*To be fair, I think she was more annoyed at the next NYT article she linked to in that post that portrayed North Dakota men as bad people.  I don't think the state populations were her overall point.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The "high" price of being single

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone that I get really nervous when people attach a definitive number to something a little abstract.  I get even more nervous when they start explaining their methodology and have to list over a dozen presumptions they made to get there.  Each one of these is a potential source of error, and if I realize they haven't thought that through and barreled ahead anyway, I start to really cringe.

Want an example?  Here's a good one.

In an article on the Atlantic website called "The High Price of Being Single" Lisa Arnold and Christina Campbell attempt to quantify the cost of being single.  They made up 4 fictional women and compared their costs for income taxes, social security, IRAs, health spending and housing and came to this conclusion:

When we calculated how much money our characters gained or lost altogether, our single women did indeed fare worse—much worse—than the married women. Their lifetime cost of being single?
 Our lower-earning woman paid $484,368 for being single. Our higher-earning woman paid $1,022,096: more than a million dollars just for being single.
We anticipate that critics will point out that the numbers could be manipulated in any number of ways. At every stage in the process we, too, thought "these sums are just too crazy; surely we must have miscalculated or reasoned wrong." We have, however, made only the most conservative of estimates and still reached the conclusion that, no matter which way you read the numbers, the final assessment remains the same: Singles get screwed.
To be clear, the focus of this article was policy based issues that cost singles money. I am not here to comment on particular policy, or to rate singleness as good bad or neutral. I am merely curious about their figures, and their claim that these "are the most conservative of estimates".  But are they really?  I mean, according to them a woman earning $40,000 works for 12 years just to pay for being single (out of the 40 years of working life they estimated for their model).  That seems excessive, so I wanted to break it down further.

Income Taxes: To be clear, I'm not a tax professional, so I have no idea if the assessment that a married woman pays dramatically less in taxes is accurate.  However, presuming that it is*, I thought it was rather deceitful to calculate out only income taxes when this does not accurately represent tax burden for most people.  Looking at my own tax burden, my property taxes have risen dramatically since I got married.  I would imagine this is the case for most people....married people represent 64% of home buyers, and anecdote would suggest they likely buy bigger homes than single people.  Thus, property tax burden would be larger.  Depending on your state, this burden isn't negligible, and would likely cancel out at least part of the income tax difference.  Taxes for Social Security and Medicare tend to also be quite burdensome for people, and those are applied equally and without deductions.

Social Security: I'll just take their word for it on this one, social security rules baffle me....and I'm pretty sure the whole system's going to be gone by the time I get there anyway.

IRAs: This one was a little strange to me.  Again, these rules get tricky, but I was curious how many people actually are using their IRAs enough to feel either the advantage or disadvantage of this every year.  It turns out, not many.  Only 15% of Americans make yearly contributions to their IRAs.  Some of the other moves complained about (a spouse being able to contribute while the other is disabled) also seemed like something most people wouldn't use.

Health Spending:  This was the one that really got me.  It starts with this:
According to the BLS, couples spent 6.9 percent of their annual income on health on average; single men spent only 3.9 percent (the data doesn't explain why this number is so low); and single women spent 7.9 percent. It's not clear how the BLS broke down these numbers into component parts (ie., did they include insurance premiums?).
First, in defense of the BLS, they are incredibly open about their methodology for their Consumer Expenditure Survey.  It's right here (and yes, that included insurance premiums). Upon looking at it, two things jump out at me.  The first is that the BLS uses the designation married/single woman/single man to refer to the head of household.  Second, their expenditures survey asks about total expenses for the entire household.  So it's entirely likely that women pay more not because of the "discriminatory policies by companies and the U.S. government" that the authors blame, but because they have children.  82% of custodial parents are women, and of course the same medical costs for children will add up to a smaller percent of income in two parent home (which is likely to have a higher income than a single earner home).  Single men likely have a lower cost because they are likely not caring for kids.

I actually couldn't find the survey they authors were talking about, but I did find this one that stated that married couples in their 20s pay a higher percentage  in health care costs than their single counterparts (both without kids), and this one that said the per capita outlay for health care is higher for married parents.

This section actually got really weird because the authors got mad that disability favors married people because they can just add their disability payment to their spouses income whereas single people have to live on it alone.  That just struck me as an odd complaint, as it's really more about who you have in your life to take care of you than about a government policy.  If half of an unmarried couple went on disability the same thing is true.  Same goes if your parents/siblings/children can step in.  To argue that it's discriminatory is just bizarre.

Housing: This part started to touch on the obvious issue, but quickly veered in to a strange place.  They touched on logistics, but then decided most of the gap was probably because landlords, realtors and developers discriminate against single people.  That's fine, if you buy that's a bigger factor than the "married people have a built in roommate to split costs" thing, but again, there's no mention of children.

My next door neighbor is a single woman with 3 kids.  She bought her house for almost exactly what we bought ours for.  I have no idea if she's widowed/divorced/never married, but I do know she'd have to make quite a bit of money (or have had a fantastic down payment) in order to pay the same percentage of her salary on housing as I am.  Again, "single women" are heads of household, and if they have children their cost will be much higher than married people ,with no one to split it with.

My last point would be that a higher housing cost should not necessarily be counted as lost money.  Homeowners certainly pay a lot in interest, but at some point they also acquire an asset.  Single women buy homes at twice the rate of single men, and thus we can presume that many of them are ultimately recouping their increased payments in a solid asset.

The conclusion: I have no doubt being single effects people and their spending habits in a myriad of ways, but my guess is having kids affects it even more.  To lump all single women together and extrapolate costs is ridiculous.  To make this article convincing, the women in question would have had to clearly find numbers for single women without kids vs married women without kids and then compare it to those with kids for both categories.   Most people have kids.  Families form because they are the most efficient way of raising kids physically, emotionally and economically.  Efficiency cuts costs.  You're never going to have a scenario in which being a single mother or father costs less per person than being a couple raising children, and at no point in this article were childless singles and marrieds compared.

*Then what's this marriage penalty we're always hearing about?

Monday, January 14, 2013

...and one more thing about babies

I mentioned yesterday's post to a coworker today, who went on a long rant about how her daughter grew out of all the baby sizes so fast it was ridiculous.

It occurred to me to go back and look at the sizing on baby clothes compared to growth charts, and here's  what I found for boys:

Size                            Upper Weight Limit           Age 50th percentile boys/girls reach that weight
Newborn                               8 lbs                                             1-2 weeks/2 weeks
3  Month                             12.5 lbs                                           2 months/3 months
6 Month                              16.5 lbs                                           5 months/7 months
9 Month                              20.5 lbs                                           8 months/13 months
12 Month                            24.5 lbs                                           18 months/22 months

So a boy outgrowing all the sizes early is actually extremely likely (though the upper sizes seem a bit confused).  Interestingly, the height based portion was actually pretty accurate.

Just thought it was an interesting take on what baby clothes sizes actually meant, at least for one company.

Alright, done with the baby stuff now, at least for a bit.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

This post has a gratuitous cute baby picture in it

But not right up front, that would put me in mommy blog territory.

Last week's post about breastfeeding reminded me that I had mentioned back in August a few things about baby growth charts, and how some odd numbers had actually been part of a series of events that led to me having an urgent c-section.  I figured since I'd brought it up, I should update you all.

The little lord is growing just fine.  He's actually quite the textbook little baby....literally.  If I read any book that says "around week 16 this will happen" he's there +/- 3 days.  If it says he'll want to eat every 3 hours, he's there to the minute (he did this 7 times in a row once, to the minute).  If you wanted to write a textbook about a baby, you could come watch my son.  I've come to realize predictability is an amazing quality in a baby.

As of his last checkup he was 40th percentile for height and 30th for weight.

Interestingly, the biggest reaction I get when I tell people that he's 30th for weight is "how much more is he supposed to weigh?  He looks fine to me!".

I think this is another interesting misunderstanding of the height/weight charts.  Average is not necessarily the same thing as normal.  Normal can be a broad spectrum, average is just one number.  My baby is normal, thankyouverymuch.

After a few of those comments, I went and took a look at the growth charts.  In reality, the differences between the percentiles are quite small.  The difference between the 25th percentile and 50th percentile at 4 months is around 1 lb.  That's about the same as the difference between the 50th and 75th as half of all babies fall in the same 2 lb range (or at least half of all babies in the group they used 40 years ago to make the charts. That range doesn't change's about +/- .6 kg up until a year.  The differences on the more extreme ends get bigger as the months go birth the difference between the 5th percentile and the 50th is .6 kg and at a year it's 1.6 kg.

All right, now that you've sat through all that metric system, here's the baby picture I promised (and yes, he's labeled in this picture....5 months old):
I told you he was cute.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Weekend moment of Zen 1-12-13

If you ever want to get stuff done, don't google "top youtube videos of 2012".  That's a rabbit hole it can take a while to get out of.  That being said, enjoy!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Fun Links 1-11-13

From a review of a great new paper titled "Is everything we eat associated with cancer? A systematic cookbook review."  Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.

As a blogger, I suppose I shouldn't enjoy ads for newspapers, but this one was really clever:
I especially like the part with the Indian.

From the Onion:
Breaking News: Series Of Concentric Circles Emanating From Glowing Red Dot
Experts are still trying to determine the effect of the concentric circles on the long squiggly green objects. located in the blue area.

I'm headed to Salk Lake City for a conference in a few weeks.  Glad I'm doing it in 2013 and not 1857, when it would have taken at least 3 weeks to get there.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wednesday Brain Teaser 1-8-12

Not a brain teaser in the traditional sense, but a question I'd like an answer for....

Is there any reason why we can't use the military model of conscientious objection as a compromise solution for the contraception mandate part of the Affordable Care Act?  Wouldn't it make sense to allow organizations to apply, show that their objections stem from a deeply held religious belief that has influenced their business/organization in many ways, and offer up a different public service in lieu of the coverage they found objectionable?  Say, a donation to a child health program in the state?  

I try not to get political here, but I don't see why we're having a national fight over Faith vs Public Good when we've actually already had this discussion and come up with a solution that seemed to work relatively well?  

Someone get me Mitt Romney's email address...he's more than qualified and I hear he's not busy right now.

Please raise objections, I'm honestly curious why this wouldn't work.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The most unexpected fact check you'll see all day

In my morning perusal of the internet, the Washington Post headline "the saddest graph you'll see all day" caught my eye.  It turns out it was this infographic about rape*:

Now if you've read my blog at all, you know that I consider every infographic guilty until proven innocent, so I figured this one was equally lousy, and I didn't think much more about it.

I was going to take another look at it this afternoon, but then I went to and found that Amanda Marcotte had already done a take down of exactly how terrible this graphic is.  Let me just say, when that's the person fact checking you, something's gone terribly wrong.

In case you're curious, the glaring issues with this infographic are: it uses the label "rapists" interchangeably with "rapes" (implying 1:1 ratio), it mixed UK data with US data (the # of unreported rapes is based on something out of an old UK study)....the actual estimate of unreported US rapes is 54%, and they mix false accusations (where someone was accused wrongly) with false complaints (where someone said it happened but didn't name a suspect). 

Can I say it again?  I HATE INFOGRAPHICS.

*Since when are you allowed to call an infographic a graph?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Rich mom poor mom sick mom?

Back in August, right after I gave birth to the little lord, I did a post on why I thought a lot of research around  best practices for caring for infants was skewed.  At the time, I was pondering the difference the selection bias around mothers who had time and resources to engage in lots of skin to skin contact with their infant or to breastfeed for more than a few weeks vs those who did not(sparked in part by Mayor Bloomberg's initiative to make formula harder to get in the hospital so women would be more likely to breastfeed).

Well, last week Time magazine did me one better.

In an excellent piece, Lisa Selin Davis points out that there is almost no research on whether there can be underlying medical conditions that affect a woman's ability to breastfeed.  The justification for this is that women should be able to do it because "it's a normal mammalian function".

As the article points out, this is a positively stunning thing for a doctor to say.  The vast majority of non-injury related ailments we treat are things that aren't working normally.

As I mentioned in my single moms post, sometimes we need more granular categories for the things we talk about broadly.  While breastfeeding is good for babies, do babies whose mothers are medically unable to feed them this way really have worse outcomes?  If this problem is so unacknowledged, has a study like that ever been done?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

More weekend map fun

I liked the map I put up yesterday, but then I found this one (via chartporn) which is even more fun.  It's from 1927 and it was a guide to where in California you should shoot your movie if you wanted it to look like other regions of the world.  I like that "Sherwood Forest, England" is it's own category.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Weekend Moment of Zen 1-5-13

A Laconic History of the World from MapHugger
The creator explains:
This map was produced by running all the various countries’ “History of _____” Wikipedia article through a word cloud, then writing out the most common word to fit into the country’s boundary. The result is thousands of years of human history oversimplified into 100-some words.
Reader's guide here.

Apparently Pakistan (country) is actually India (word).

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Is it better to be raised by a single mom?

Now there's a headline that's too irresistible not to click...."It's better to be raised by a single mom".

I was looking forward to this article, as my master's program specialized in marriage and family I was expecting some new and interesting study I could take a look at.

Spoiler alert: there is no study.  I'm going to talk about it anyway.

It turns out is running a new series on single moms that they are soliciting essays for with this line:
Readers, we invite you to submit your testimonies on why being raised by a single mother, or being a single mother, has its benefits and might even be better than having both parents around.
This article is the first personal essay where the mother asserts that her kids are not doomed to failure like all the studies say, but rather they are doing better than their peers.  Her primary argument is actually not a ridiculous one: her kids went through difficult times with her and developed more resilience than they would have otherwise.  Almost anyone who went through a difficult time financially/emotionally/physically/all of the above when they were younger will say in adulthood it made them I can see what she's saying.

On the other hand, we all know the headline is enticing because you simply can't draw any action from the conclusion without getting ridiculous.  No one would divorce their spouse they were otherwise happy with in order to give their kids "more grit" like the writer asserts hers have.  This is similar to people who escaped childhood might have made them stronger, but none would purposefully go back in order to raise their kids in the same way.

But opinions on her article aside, from the data point of view, I am baffled that in 2013 we are still referencing data on "single moms" as though that group were even approaching homogeneous.  When I tracked back some of the links were they were explaining why they were doing this series, it appears it all started with the study from this summer that found the majority of women under 30 who give birth are unmarried.  This is an interesting stat, but it's worth pointing out that unmarried does not necessarily mean solo, and "single" can reference either.

That being said, there are four categories of single mothers I can think of, all with different factors that affect outcomes:

  1. Single mothers who are single because their spouse died.  Possible variables include at what point the child's father died, how involved both families are, if there's any trauma surrounding the circumstances of the death in particular.
  2. Single mothers who were married, but got divorced. Possible variables include timing of divorce, level of the father's involvement, and how acrimonious the divorce was, and how hostile the marriage was before the divorce.
  3. Single mothers who were unmarried at the time they gave birth.  Possible variables include how long they knew the father beforehand, commitment level/father's involvement and cohabitation status.
  4. Single mothers who became mothers intentionally sans partner.  This is a small category, but possibly growing.  This is mostly 30s-ish women who choose to adopt or use a donor to achieve a pregnancy and child without any recognized father.
All of these categories will have different permutations, though #4 is the most uncharted and  #3 tends to span the widest range.  A mother who is simply categorized as "unmarried" could have had a one night stand or she could have been living with a partner for 10 years.  Financial status, family involvement, dating practices and time single will effect all of these scenarios, but I think it's unfair to lump these four categories together any more.

If Slate wants to do the world a real public service when it comes to single motherhood, they should focus on soliciting writers from each of these categories to acknowledge the unique challenges that come with each.  Whether it's research or anecdotal data, we need to start acknowledging the differences in these categories.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The teachers that matter

I realize that I don't often talk about teachers or pre-college math and science education on this blog, but today I'm making an exception.  You see, today is my grandmother's birthday, and it feels only fitting to reflect on one of the most wonderful educator's I have ever known.

My grandmother was my first official teacher.  She home schooled me in Kindergarten, and then started a school that I went to for all of elementary school.  Some of my readers went their as well, and some sent their children there.  I'm sure they'd all agree with me....she was an unforgettable teacher, the kind of person every child should have to guide them early on.

She had high expectations for every child she met, and was one of those people who brought out the best in all the children she encountered.  She believed every child was special, and had a peculiar brand of discipline that helped convey this.  With just a quick look she could make you feel embarrassed that you'd stepped out of line.  "I know you're a good and smart child" her eyes would say "and when you do things like that you don't live up to your potential".  Her nature could calm the rowdiest of boys and the silliest of girls.  She knew the difference between a kid with too much energy and a real behavior problem, and she treated both with kindness.

She always pushed her students to explore a little more, read a longer book, do a harder math problem, go explore the world in new and interesting ways.  She put on the best darn science fairs for little kids I've ever seen.

I wish we had more teachers like my grandmother, people who truly love steering a child to discover new things.  It's not only the best way to teach science, but really any subject.  

So happy birthday Grammie, may your day be filled with joy and thank yous from the many people you've taught over the years....including all 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and 6 great grand children.

Also, maybe next year get call waiting?  This is the second year in a row I have made 3+ attempts to get through with no success.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Life, death and disability OR more on guns and automobiles

I was chatting with my grandmother this morning, and somehow we ended up talking about the traffic fatality study I posted about on Friday.  I mentioned to her that according to the article, traffic fatalities (for 2011) were as low as they were in 1949.  

We were discussing the reasons for this drop, and it occurred to me that over the very long term, improved medical care was quite possibly a big reason why we hadn't quintupled the number of automotive related deaths when we quintupled the number of car (in 1949 we only had 17% of the cars we have now, and drove 14% of the miles).  Simply put, an accident that would prove fatal in 1949 quite likely would not be fatal today, even with the same injuries.  There are more hospitals, more first responders, and more technology available once you get to the hospital.

This shift in medicine comes up fairly frequently in a variety of statistics that get thrown out there.  It is always worth noting that sometimes improving some metrics will naturally make others worse.

For example, a recent study showed that life expectancy for the average person worldwide is going up, but that some of those gains in life expectancy are offset by increased years of disability.  Now in some cases, those two things are related....if we can treat disabling condition but not cure it, your life expectancy will go up even as your years living disable go up.

Another example is the number of disabled veterans we have coming back from the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.  More vets are returning with physical and mental disabilities, in part because the injuries they sustained would have been lethal in previous generations.  

I'm curious if improved health care has had a long term effect on gun deaths.  It strikes me that since most of them are suicides, it is likely advances in medical technology may not help as much, as they would probably maintain a fairly constant level of fatality from the get go.

While we're on the topic of gun fatalities, Bloomberg News put together a chart that projected that gun fatalities will surpass automotive deaths by 2015.  
From the looks of this chart, they didn't base their trends on anything prior to 2008.  I'm somehow doubting this is really going to play out the way they claim, especially since 2012 showed an increase.

Someone get Nate Silver on this.