Thursday, February 28, 2013

Women work harder than men OR there is no "p" in "3M"

In one of those weird "stalking bad data" moments today, I found this Jezebel article that claimed that women worked harder than men.  The Jezebel article linked to a Forbes article about a study from 3M, but there was no link.  Finally, someone in the comments section actually found the study and I got to take a look.

Now the whole reason I wanted to track this down was because the claim that "women work harder than men" appeared to be based on the difference of a few seconds over the course of 10 minutes (2.5 minutes for women vs 2.1 minutes for men).  Of course I wanted to see a p value here....they do know that's how we assess if the difference of 24 seconds actually means something right?  

Alas, no.  No p value.  Just a one time 10 minute trial of who logged more keystrokes when a researcher was sitting nearby.  

Also according to the study, people under 35 work harder than those over 35, and supervisors work harder than non-supervisors.  What's weird is apparently the only metric used to assess "work" was keystrokes, and it doesn't appear anyone group spent more than an average 5 minutes out of 10 working, even with a researcher standing over their shoulder.  

Alright, I know this whole study is one big advertisement for their privacy software, but they couldn't even give us a p value for how much better everyone did with their software?  Why even use statistics if you're not going to at least pretend to be rigorous?  

Must have been a man who put this together.  Everyone knows they don't do much.*

*If you presume an 8 hour work day, and assume equal productivity across the day, the men in this office work 101 minutes to the women's 120 minutes.  How the heck to I get a job where I only do 2 hours of work per day????

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday Brain Teaser 2-27-13

If I were to give you the equation 26 = 47 in big foam numbers, how could you rearrange them to make it an accurate equation?  You can't add any mathematical operators or get rid of the equal sign.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What can your dentist tell you about your risk for ovarian cancer?

Answer: more than I thought.

The absolute rates aren't small either...20% of women with epithelial ovarian cancer have hypodontia, as opposed to 3% of women overall.  Women are 4 times as likely to have hypodontia as men.

I bring this up because I think it's an interesting clear case of correlation without causation.  Missing teeth don't cause ovarian cancer, and ovarian cancer doesn't cause missing teeth.  It's also an interesting case of how research has to move in two directions.  Now that there's proof that ovarian cancer patients tend to have hypodontia, there are trials underway to see if women with hypodontia get ovarian cancer, and if so how high the rate is.  A correlation also does not mean prediction.  Prediction means prediction.

If you're wondering why this came up, it's because I have hypodontia, and I'd never really thought to look it up until now*.  Apparently it's a half decent idea for me to let my primary care doctor know about this, as there are very few early signs of ovarian cancer. never fails to surprise me.**

*Sometimes I forget we have the internet.  Not really, but sometimes there are questions I had pre-internet that it never occurs to me I can get answers to now.  I found out about the teeth thing when my teeth failed to develop, back in around 1993 or so.

**In case you're really curious about my dentistry: I'm congenitally missing 8 teeth total, but 4 of them are my wisdom teeth. To be clear, these were not pulled, they never existed.  Wisdom teeth (third molars) don't count in the diagnosing of hypodontia.  I'm completely missing my mandibular second molars, and I only have baby teeth for my mandibular second bicuspid (second premolar).  None of this is visible unless you're seriously looking in my mouth, but dentists do generally go "oh cool!" when they see my mouth for the first time.  The teeth I'm missing are all the most common ones, though 4 is on the high side to be missing (all the people in the study were only missing one or two).  I also had a tooth try to grow in on the roof of my mouth, but that's a whole different story.

Monday, February 25, 2013

P(x|y) = eww, gross

I finished my first midterm of the semester this week.  There was a decent section that revolved around calculating P(x|y) other words the probability of x if we know that y has already happened.  In simple terms, if you have a probability of something happening (x), and something else that's related to x happens (y), the probability of x happening changes.

This is not an overly complex concept when it's spelled out mathematically, but in real life it can be hard for people to remember that improbable events are often far more probable if you consider what's already happened.

I was reminded of this when I was reading Dear Prudence ('s advice column) last week and came across this letter from a man (born by artificial insemination from an unknown sperm donor) who decided to seek out his father, only to discover that it was the same man who had donated to his wife's mother.  Oops.  And gross.  Seriously, gross.

What struck me as more though, was a response that was printed from another reader:
I know you/we cannot know, but color me skeptical that this letter is legit. The odds of such a “match” have to be very small. I can't help but wonder if this letter is a fiction pushing a political agenda.
This seems true of course...I mean, it's a sort of Casablanca moment right?  Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world....

But let's think about this couple for a second:

  1. They'd be the same age.  I don't know about sperm banks in particular, but I do know that most stored bodily fluids are only considered "good" for a few if two people were to result from one donor, they would likely be around the same age.  Most people tend to marry someone within a few years plus or minus their own age.
  2. They'd be from the same place. Sperm donors are unlikely to trit trot around the country donating to various centers....they're more likely to stay in the city they actually live in.  I have no particular experience with this, but I'd imagine that people looking for a sperm bank stick to their same town as well....which means these two children would like be raised in the same city, making their chances of meeting go up and the culture they were raised in more similar.
  3. Their mothers had a lot in common.  From the letter, the couple is at least over the age of 30.  From what I gather, it was less common for people to use sperm banks prior to 1980.  According to this article, in 1987, only 5000 single women asked for donor sperm.  At the time the letter writers mother and mother-in-law were looking, it was likely even fewer.  This means the two shared a very unique background, and had mothers who were both counter-cultural enough to go forward with this.  This would give them quite a bit in common.
  4. They'd likely have at least some similar hobbies, interests, and personality traits. I think most people would agree that at least some of our hobbies/interests/personality traits/taste in friends/what have you are more nature than nurture.  I would thus think it extremely likely that two people sharing the same father would have at least one major hobby or interest in common, making it much more likely that their social circles would cross and that they'd have something to talk about when it did.  The more you believe genetics influence who you eventually are, the better the chances they'd meet.
  5. People (might) like people who look like them.  I actually had some trouble finding a good paper that proves this, but it's a theory.  Interestingly, the only scholarly article cited in support of this on the Wikipedia page actually turned out to say they found no evidence of this.  This is why Wikipedia =/= research.
  6. Their parents would likely have supported the union.  In-law issues are tough, but I'd imagine if you were a lesbian mother in the 80s and found out your adult son was going to marry the daughter of another lesbian mother from the 80s, you'd be pretty psyched.  Also, they'd very likely have been in a similar socio-economic class, as both their moms were well off enough to pursue this avenue.
So we're not calculating the probability of two random people finding each other.  We're calculating the probability that two people in the same age group, from the same city, with the same unique background and similar interests, from similar cultures, with some similar personality traits, who looked similar, would meet, start dating and with (likely) large amounts of family support get married.  The chances would still likely be small, but not nearly as small.  When you throw in that they ended up at the same college, the chances actually get pretty high.

Many people seems to think that we have some sort of "incest flag" that would make us not attracted to relatives, but it actually is more likely related to the Westermark effect...or being in close proximity during childhood.  While it appears sperm banks are now actually trying to account for this, there could be some scary ramifications for some people.  Kinda brings new meaning to the phrase "what's your name, who's your daddy?" eh?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Who talks or women?

There is nothing I love more than a clever phrase to describe a phenomena that bothers me.  Last night I found such a phrase in a Jezebel article about gender differences in number of words spoken per day.

The phrase: public domain data.

This describes the phenomena of data that's been so often cited that no one seems to think you need a reference for it anymore (think "you need 8 glasses of water per day").  

In this particular article, she brings it up in the context of the assertion that women say more words per day than men do.  The most commonly cited data puts it at anywhere from double to quadruple the number...quite a difference by any stretch of the imagination.  The problem is the numbers are apparently quite fictional.

The Jezebel piece links to this piece on a blog from UPENN where someone actually tried to track down a study that ever established the numbers quoted.  They found that it apparently originated with James Dobson sometime in the late 80's or early 90's, and that he did not seem to have a study to back him up (his actual quote was that "God gave women 50,000 words for the day, and men 25,000").

From there it seems to have changed and distorted, but it does not seem anyone has actually sat down and counted the number of words men and women said.

If you think about it, this would be a really hard study to do.  I mean, I think most people would knee-jerk agree that women talk more than men, but we have to remember that we're only thinking of social situations. Your choice of profession would HEAVILY skew how many words you were saying per day.  I mean, my brother the biology teacher is by far the quietest member of my immediate family when we get together.  However, I would hazard a guess that 5 days out of the week he likely says more words than I do.  I mean, he teaches.  He has to say words.  I spend at least half my day analyzing data.  No words needed.  I also have a longer commute (no talking needed) and unless I'm giving a presentation all of my meetings involve giving people equal time to talk.  But of course people who met us wouldn't count his professional speaking. It would be clear to everyone that I talk more...unless you had a researcher study us on an average day.

Additionally, even if this stat had been true in 1993, how would we count it today?  In 1993, most social communication was verbal.  How would we count blogging, Twitter, Reddit or texting? It feels strange to count those as words, but also strange to not include them.  

I mean, the little lord's been taking his morning nap for the past hour or so.  In that time I have commented on 4 blogs, written two emails, one Facebook message, and written this post.  For research purposes though, I haven't said a word.  Interesting, isn't it?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Fun Links 2-22-13

Now that Valentine's Day is over, I thought you might want to know how to break up with someone, data style.

An American accent quiz.  I just spent some time out west, is this why I apparently sound like I'm from there?

Fun fact: Britain has only failed to invade 22 in the world.  What did Guatemala do wrong?

Remember the Sims?  Here's what happens when they go wrong.

This is a little surreal looking, but these fMRIs of fetal brains are really interesting.

Going out to Utah reminded me that my first science crush was paleontology.  Here's a size comparison chart of people and dinosaurs.  Expect more dinosaur mentions in the weeks to come.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Who do you believe, me or your brain?

A few years ago, right before the 2008 election, a friend of mine put the following up on Facebook:
This was accompanied by a blurb that we should all think about these wise words from a great man.  

Now I haven't taken a history class since 1999, but something about the language struck me as funny.  I wasn't sure, but it didn't sound like Lincoln to me.  Thusly, I ran to the Google and took a look around.  I found the Snopes page and the Illinois Historical Society site...both confirmed my suspicions.  Lincoln never said that.  

Back then I was young and naive, so I blithely left a link for my friend letting him know the author was wrong, and that it was actually William Boetker who said it.  A few days later, I decided to check if anything else had happened with the post....and found that he had deleted me as a friend, deleted my comment, but left the post up.

It was baffling to me that someone could take that much offense not because I had disagreed with the content, but because I had pointed out a legitimate factual error in something he was citing.  It was my introduction to this sort of thing (which I think has become more common as the internet has grown) but it gets me every time.  Obviously I understand why people want their opinions to be right, but must everything that defends ones point be true?

I've had a few other incidents like this recently, and so I was really interested to hear about this  study done in partnership with, where they presented people with photos of political events since 1999. The twist was the 5 of the possibilities (participants were given a random sampling of 4)  were doctored photos depicting events that never happened.  They were then asked if they either saw it or remembered it happening.  

I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Quite a few people "remembered" the false events (all of which could be viewed as negative against a particular politician).  While some merely checked the box, others had detailed memories they wrote down (ie "that was the day I lost all respect for Hilary Clinton").  What really got me interested were two things:
First, Democrats were more likely to "remember" the false events that made Republicans look bad, and Republicans were more likely to "remember" moments that made Democrats look bad.  Additionally, regardless of party, the more strongly you said you remembered it, the more people couldn't recognize events as false even when they were told there was a false one out of the ones they'd remembered.

Now there are some limitations to this study*, but I wonder if it's not starting to touch on the same phenomena.  Once we start to believe a piece of information is true, are we more likely to keep believing it or to consider certain points of falseness less relevant?  If it aligns with our previously held beliefs, are we even more likely to do this?  

Why else would you hold on to a quote/fact/etc that had a demonstrably false portion?

*Only 5% of those survey were conservative, it was Slate readers polled, nothing stopped them from looking things up during the survey

Wednesday Brain Teaser 2-20-13

I am thinking of a number between 1 and 1300.  It meets 3 criteria:

  1. It is a perfect cube.
  2. It is less than 500.
  3. It is a perfect square.
Just kidding, it only meets two of those.  To make up for lying though, I'll tell you that it starts with 5, 7, or 9.

Include in your answer how much googling it took you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fox news: the channel you love to hate

At least according to this chart of people's most and least trusted TV news sources:

I'm deeply curious how many of the people who ranked anything as their "least trusted" actually arrived at that assessment after watching that particular channel.  This feels like a poll that's a lot more about social signaling than about actual assessment of new sources.

Here's the original poll.  

Monday, February 18, 2013

Data, elections, and how to check your facts

I've been meaning to post something on David Brooks (Brooks's? Brooks'?) column from a few weeks ago on the "Philosophy of Data".  A couple readers sent this to me (thanks all!) and I thought it was pretty interesting.  He questions how the rise of big data is going to change things, and raises a few pertinent questions:
Over the next year, I’m hoping to get a better grip on some of the questions raised by the data revolution: In what situations should we rely on intuitive pattern recognition and in which situations should we ignore intuition and follow the data? What kinds of events are predictable using statistical analysis and what sorts of events are not?
I think those questions are relevant, and I was thinking about them when this cartoon popped up in my newsfeed on Facebook a few days ago:

In the post election fallout, a lot of the geek blogs I read questioned deeply Romney's data collection.  Several supposed insiders claimed that while there were many in his campaign charged with data collection, he lacked people who were performing what is scientifically known as "the sniff test".

Now I have no idea if the stuff about the Romney campaign is true (though I did know some folks on the Obama team and their data gathering was quite stunning to the point of mildly creepy), but I think that raising questions about data vs gut reactions are going to be big battles in areas like politics.  I mean, anyone who's seen or read Moneyball knows that it took a while to get this in to baseball, and baseball's got far fewer moving targets than politics.

What I think is interesting though is that integrating large data sets in to a highly charged and changing environment actually isn't that hard, and I'm not sure why intuition and data get set up as opposing forces.  They actually work quite well together if you let them.  Here's the basic steps:
  1. Figure out what problem you're trying to solve
  2. Get a large relevant data set
  3. Analyze it until you get any numbers you can think of that might be helpful
  4. Find several rational people who are deeply embedded in the problem area
  5. Ask them what they think of the data, get the gut reaction
  6. Explain to them where you got the data, see if their reaction is the same
  7. Ask them if anyone they know would disagree with this data, and if so why
  8. Ask them if this helps them know how to proceed
  9. Ask them if there's any other data that might be useful for this problem
  10. Go find that, repeat 5-9.
Data is helpful, but easily manipulated.  We need a combination of data and good gut reactions to figure out where to go in high stakes environments.  People directly involved in a situation are always going to be both the best and worst judge of the situation....and that's okay.  Data geeks should set themselves somewhere in the middle, and always be questioning.  Data doesn't make you an expert, but it can give you standing to challenge the experts. 

There's no magic bullet here.  There's only another very useful tool in (what should already be) a well stocked tool box.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Interesting conference data of the week

So tonight's the last night I'm at this conference (American Society for Bone Marrow Transplant if you're curious), so I figured it would be an appropriate moment to share some interesting data issues that came up in the sessions I went to.

The most interesting one came from a group out of Johns Hopkins, in their talk about their combined inpatient/outpatient program.  About 20 years ago now, they started to transition their transplant patients from one long inpatient stay to a shorter stay with a sort of intensive outpatient clinic follow up.  This worked really well, cut costs, helped patients feel more autonomous, etc.  What was interesting is that as they followed up on patients and how they did, they found that patients treated under this model did better on every single quality of life metric* except one: feelings about appearance.

Since there is no reason to believe they actually looked any different, the only conclusion they could reach is that the more "normal" people the cancer patients saw, the more acutely aware they were of how they looked.  When they were in the hospital, they were surrounded by other patients, but on the outside they were exposed to more healthy people.

I thought that was an interesting example of how much quality of life measures can depend on what your environment is and who you're being exposed to.  We like to act like hapiness or contentment were definitive values that are totally internally generated, but they're not.  People compare themselves to others.  We just can't help it.

*The hard health measures (recovery, blood counts, etc) were the same with either method.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday Fun Link 2-15-13

Once upon a time my family went to a restaurant way up in Northern New Hampshire.  My brother decided to get the "spaghetti and meatball" dinner.  As he was looking at the menu before ordering, he remarked that it was interesting that they seemed to have forgotten the "s".  The meal came.  There was no typo.  There was just one solitary small meatball atop an ocean of spaghetti.  The end.

It's not a great story, but it's the kind of thing that a 9 year old and a 7 year old found endlessly hilarious.

Of course that's just me saying that I didn't forget the "s" on link up in the title.  I'm having a hell of a time trying to cut and paste links with my iPad, and that all I have here.  Anyway, this is another Valentine's Day one, but it was good enough to put the effort in. did 50 Great American Love for each state.

I knew that Massachusetts would be "Love Story" and it was.  Honestly I think they used "love stories" a little loosely, because I've read "The Virgin Suicides" and that was damn depressing (and don't even get me started on Grapes of Wrath).  I haven't read too many of these....Florida (Their Eyes Were Watching God), Georgia (Gone With the Wind),  Nebraska (My Antonia), Ohio (Beloved), Oklahoma (Grapes of Wrath), South Dakota (These Happy Golden Years), and Wisconsin (Blankets).

So that's seven...and for someone as New England-centric as I am, they're certainly all over the place. My favorite is certainly Their Eyes Were Watching God, and my least was Grapes of Wrath.  I wish I had known earlier you could skip every other chapter.  Sigh.

Valentine's Day

I was going to post this last night, but it turns out procuring a cocktail in Salt Lake City actually requires a bit more time and effort than one might suspect.  On the plus side, they have a lovely choir here.

Anyway, here's a link to quite the smattering of geek themed Valentine's Day cards.  These really run the gamut from comp sci to genetics....but I think #3 might be my favorite.  What's yours?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wednesday Brain Teaser 2-13-13

Well, I made it to Salt Lake City in one piece.  I even got a chance to walk around for a bit, but I kept getting really confused about where I was going.  Then I realized that I am actually staying at the intersection of West South Temple and South West Temple.  Um, no wonder I kept going in circles.

Anyway, I didn't have time to find a good number puzzle today, so you're getting one I saw in the in flight magazine:

Three of these names have something in common:  Diana, Mary, Sophia and Carol

Which is the odd one out, and why?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

More crime stats - male vs female sentencing

Yesterday's post got me thinking about crime, and I remember a stat I saw somewhere that I had never seen any details on...namely that women tend to get shorter jail sentences than men for the same types of crime.

I took a look around and found that the definitive study on this seems to be this one by David Mustard.  He analyzed over 77,000 convictions and sentences for 41 different types of crime, to see if he could come up with how much race, gender, education and socioeconomic status effected sentences.

It appears that the difference in length of sentences between genders is 5.5 months, when comparing similar crimes overall.  This is an issue because the guidelines specifically prohibit discrimination based on gender.  I got curious though....if the only criteria was "similar crime", could we be losing some detail here?  Interestingly enough Mustard actually did delve in to some additional detail that made a difference.  Apparently sentencing guidelines are set by the USSC guidelines, which require that criminal history and the particular offense be taken in to account, and ban certain characteristics from being taken in to account (gender included).  Everything else that goes in to a crime is fair game, and if a judge overrides the standards, he has to provide a reason why he felt these standards shouldn't apply (an appellate court must agree).  If you exclude those cases where the judge believed there was an extra level of egregiousness, the sentencing difference drops to 1.8 months.  

I thought that was interesting....are judges more likely to see things men did as particularly awful, or are men more likely to add an extra layer of awful to some crimes?

I started wondering what would happen if you got several people to weigh in on particular offenses with gender removed (okay, this wouldn't work for most rape cases....but everything else would likely be fair game).  This could be an interesting comparison study to see where the  differences were coming from.

Also, I can't dig up the study at the moment, but there is some evidence that suggests the more emotional the accused seems to be about what they've done, the lighter the sentence.*  It strikes me that since women generally cry more easily/frequently than men, this might play a part.  Another interesting "is this discrimination against a gender or against a characteristic that is linked to gender" question.   I'd love to see a study that took in to account who cried at their sentencing.

As for me, I'm headed to Salt Lake City in the morning.  I'll try not to get arrested.

*This is why people with Aspberger's tend to get stiffer sentences.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Evil Genes and the Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul

Edit before I hit post:  I wrote this whole post and then decided to google a few more things to make sure I had everything straight....only to come across this article that clarifies that Dr Roth was misquote by the Daily Mail in the article I start with.  I'm still posting this though because I think that the criticisms I make below are a good framework for assessing any study that looks at the biology of criminals, and because assessing it like this had already led me to believe something was amiss (see my footnote I wrote before I found the clarification).  What can I say, when in doubt, blame the journalist.

I saw an interesting link over at Maggie's Farm the other day about  a German scientist who claims to have found a "dark patch" in the brains of people who have committed violent crimes.

In the article, the scientist, Gerhard Roth is quoted as saying this:

When you look at the brain scans of hardened criminals, there are almost always severe shortcomings in the lower forehead part of the brain.... 
...But when I will look at young people, and I see there are developmental disorders in the lower forehead brain, I can say that there is a felon in the making with 66 per cent probability. 

What interested me as I read this was that his credentials and studies were being touted only as they related to his work with the criminal population*.  This can seem insignificant, I mean, if we want to predict criminal behavior, go take a look at the criminals right?

I'm not so sure.  It depends what he means by "66% probability".  At first glance, I'd assume he means that have the "dark patch" in question will go on to become felons.  But that sort of assertion would mean he'd have to start with a young, non-incarcerated population, identify those with this particular brain abnormality, and then see how many of them became felons.  The study the article describes does nothing of the sort.  It's one thing to say that criminals have a different brain from non criminals, but to say something's predictive you have to actually, you know, see if it can predict things.  It's possible he meant that 66% of felons have this patch and something got lost in translation?

Prison populations are really interesting to study, because they're literally captive audiences.  However, finding commonalities between criminals are fairly useless unless you have a sense of how prevalent the same thing is in the general population.  If we know this, we can know exactly what we'd do with those 33% up there who are okay and got swept up in the mess.

Some of this is covered at length in Barbara Oakley's Evil Genes.  There are a lot of issues with trying to predict violent behavior, and while I certainly think that linking genes or brain damage to evil is quite reasonable, we always will have to carefully weigh pros and cons of doing so proactively.  Even if you disregard ethical concerns, violent criminals always need to be compared to something to make sure you're not just picking up on a characteristic lots of people happen to have.

*Other weirdness in the article: Roth's not actually a neurologist, he's a neurobiologist, I'm pretty sure the "scans" Roth's referring to and that are pictured are not X-rays, you don't measure brain waves with either of those, and there's no such thing as a "central lobe".  None of this seems to be Roth's fault, but this reporter could use a little work.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weekend Zen like a G6

I was actually looking for something totally serious on Youtube when I found this video, a statistical tribute to Far East Movement's epic "Like a G6":

I then went looking for the original so you'd have some context, if desired, but instead found a little somethin somethin for my religious readers...."Like Jesus":

Now if those two didn't wear you out, here's the original:

And since we've come this far together, here's a poll so you can rate the experience:

That was fun, thanks for coming by!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Snow baby snow

Well the storm's all done, and it's officially the 5th largest snow fall in Boston since they started keeping records.

Snowstorms are a really interesting test of how people perceive data.  For example, the blizzard of '78  is absolutely legendary in these parts.  And yet, it's not the biggest snow storm on record.  Here's the list:

1. Feb. 17-18, 2003 27.6 inches
2. Feb. 6-7, 1978 27.1 inches
3. Feb. 24-27, 1969 26.3 inches
4. March 31- April 1, 1997 25.4 inches
5. Jan. 22-23, 2005 22.5 inches
6. Jan. 20-21, 1978 21.4 inches
7. March 3-5, 1960 19.8 inches
8. Feb. 16-17, 1958 19.4 inches
9. Feb. 8-10, 1994 18.7 inches
10. Dec. 26-27, 2010 18.2 inches

That first one was my senior year in college.  It was a Monday, but the Monday was a holiday. We had a lot of warning, and things weren't that bad. The blizzard of '78 was also a Monday, but not a holiday.  The snow fell faster during the '78 storm,  and the city had less warning.  There had also been another record setting storm (#6 on the list) just a few weeks earlier.  

These are the things that data hides.  Only half an inch of difference, but the impact was much different.  

Another storm that doesn't make the list was in the winter of '08 when everyone got let out of work early because of snow, at which point it promptly worsened.  People still cringe when they talk about that day.  It took people up to 9 hours to get home.   Luckily for me I worked night shift at the time and slept through the whole thing.  

Anyway, I survived yet another storm on the top ten list, and I can even open my door without it running in to a snow bank.  That's good bcause I was about to have to put the dog out through the window.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday Fun Links 2-8-13

True story: Yesterday I went to to try to get an update on the snow situation for Boston, and after about 30 seconds I turned to my office-mate and said "You know, I feel like has started employing 16 year old girls to write their forecasts"  She looked at me like I was crazy until she came over and took a look.  There WERE WEIRD CAPITALIZATION THINGS HAPPENING. Some random sentences were in bold. There were far, far too many exclamation points!!!!!  Anyway, I felt a little crazy, like maybe this was just how things were being done these days, until Gawker put up this article this morning.

Not only did other people notice that the website appeared to be six kinds of high, but they cataloged how bad it was.  In case you're curious, the current headline there is LIVE - LIFE THREATENING STORM CLOSES IN along with this chart:
So, um....ACTION!!!!  PURPLE ACTION!!!! on the other hand, totally blew my mind by informing me that the word "blizzard" actually refers to wind and visibility reduction more than falling snow.  Apparently you don't even need any snow fall, just blowing snow, to get the blizzard label.  31 years in New England and this is the first I'm hearing of this.  Way to hold out on me guys.

Alright, more things I didn't know with Buzzfeed's 19 maps that put the US in perspective.  Madagascar really kind of surprised me here.  3 movies later, and I still had no idea it would stretch from Georgia to Canada.

An interesting incident over at Retraction Watch....last year they wrote 10 blog posts about a disgraced researcher and his retractions.  This week they received a take down notice from Wordpress, as apparently a site in India (which was not active when 9 out of the 10 articles were written) had copied the articles and then filed a DMCA takedown notice against the actual authors claiming plagiarism.  The plot is thickened by the fact that they were all about the same researcher, and that this researcher has recently hired someone to help clean up his online reputation.  More here

Have Lego prices gone up?  Down?  All around?  Here's the deal.

After my post earlier this week about living in Baltimore vs Boston, you might be interested in seeing a heat map of rent in Boston and DC.

That's it for now, stay warm and dry east coasters!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Be a housewife? I'd rather DIE

....well not really.  Maybe I'd just prefer to get divorced, work, and raise my child myself.

No, wait, I wouldn't want to do that either.   That would suck.  According to an article in Jezebel though, my feelings on that put me in the minority of women: "Most Women Would Rather Kick Their Husband to the Curb Than Be a Housewife" the headline blares.

Seriously?  That doesn't even sound remotely correct.

This assertion, which is based on this article, is apparently based on a statement in this book "The Unfinished Revolution" by Kathleen Gerson.  From the article:

 80% of women and 70% of men when asked say that they would prefer an egalitarian marriage where the partners share responsibility for housework, taking care of children and breadwinning. 
....Unfortunately, an egalitarian marriage sometimes works more in theory than it does in practice (especially when kids are involved), so Gerson also asked her subjects what kind of family they'd prefer if an equal partnership became impossible. For the most part, men resolved themselves to a traditional division of labor with 70% of them saying that they would hope to convince their wives to give up their careers and focus on homemaking. 
The majority of women on the other hand — nearly 75% — say that they would rather divorce their partners, continue to work and raise their children alone than become a housewife. 
That's some strong language right there.  But seriously....75% would seek divorce?  Here's the graph:

So, the first thing I noticed is that the chart isn't labeled "divorce" but rather "self reliant".  This made me suspicious, so I took a look around.  Well, I did a little digging, and there's a few things that weren't really made clear here.  In this review of the book, it's explained that all of this data is based on interviews with 120 young people (average age 24) presumably most of them (if not all) are currently unmarried.  So that means that women were not answering "if the man you're married to right now wanted you to stay home what would you do?" but rather "if you couldn't get the hypothetical you wanted, what would be your next preference for a hypothetical choice?".  That's why the data is labeled "self-reliant" as opposed to "get a divorce".  There is no divorce.  There is no marriage.

In fact, here's what the reviewer said about women's answers to this question:

If equality is difficult to attain, most women would rather secure social and economic autonomy through a paid job than fall back into a neo-traditional relationship. Their self-reliant strategies include: seeking a position in the workplace; postponing marriage; considering marriage as optional and reversible, redesigning motherhood by postponing parenthood; separating marriage and motherhood; and, becoming a provider as well as a caretaker.
Certainly "viewing marriage as optional and reversible" points to divorce, but there's a few other options there.

At the end of the day though, I'm not sure I would take the musing of a few college students as gospel over what they would decide in the real world.  I think it's really easy to say you'd never pick staying at home with your child over a career when the child (and the father) are both hypothetical....but once you've got an actual smiling, laughing adorable baby in your arms, I'm guessing staying home wouldn't actually seem like such a terrible fate.  I mean, I've got a pretty fantastic job that I've worked hard for, but if I got laid off tomorrow I'm sure the munchkin and I could find a million ways to have a good time.

Still though, they weren't responding "what if you got laid off", they were responding to "what if you couldn't find anyone to have an equal relationship with?" or "what if you married someone who you thought would split things equally with you and he didn't?".

For the men respondents, I'm also confused why this got skewed this way.  It never clarifies if equality was hard to obtain because of circumstances, or because their wife asked to stay home.  These are men who said they wanted something egalitarian.  If that didn't work out for them, it means it was beyond their control.  They're not asking their wife to stay home in a vacuum, they're either responding to her request or an external pressure.  Sexism isn't at play here, because we already determined that's not what they want.

This all of course misses the point that marriages with a stay at home mother can be egalitarian.  I've touched on this before, but there's a lot of stats that show that many women would rather work part time or stay at home, especially when the kids are young.  Reverting to a male breadwinner setup during those years is likely a mutual decision.

Anyway, I think studies about aspirations are great, but they should be kept in context.  Life gets messy.  People make trade offs.  Sometimes life only offers you mediocre options, and you just make it work.  You can't always know what you'd do ahead of time, and that's okay.  Aspirations studies say more about the way we presume life works than the way it actually does.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wednesday Brain Teaser 2-6-12

All of my engineer readers are probably quite familiar with the Bernoulli family, or at least their principle and equation.  For those of you who aren't, they were a Swiss family of mathematicians who sat around and came up with all sorts of interesting stuff, including a large part of fluid dynamics.

Anyway, I knew a lot of things carried the name Bernoulli (Bernoulli principle, Bernoulli numbers, Bernoulli's equation, Bernoulli distribution...they ran a damn franchise), but I didn't know until researching today's problem that it wasn't just one really prolific guy, but rather a family affair.  That made me feel a bit better about things.

This all relates because today's problem apparently was a favorite of Nicolaus Bernoulli (1695-1720), who I take it was the looker of the family:

So this lovely family invented a lot of tricky math stuff that helped us understand the world better, but made my sophomore year GPA suffer a bit more than was strictly necessary.  So now dear reader, I will let them loose on you:

A correspondent writes seven letter and addresses seven envelopes, one for each letter.  In how many ways can all of the letters be placed in wrong envelopes?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Discrimination and lots of footnotes

Recently, a male friend of mine got accused of sexism at work.  It was during an exit interview, and he was a bit flummoxed by the whole thing, so he asked me to play gender referee and talk it through with him.

Now to be clear, I don't think he's sexist.....but three years worth of therapy school render me pretty incapable of responding to something like "hey an employee on her way out the door accused me of being sexist" with anything other than " do you feel about that?"*

Anyway, we were talking it out, and I mentioned that in feminist theory, there are really a few different types of sexism.  I've covered the benevolent vs hostile sexism issue before, but the kind I was thinking of in this case is direct vs indirect sexism.**

Direct sexism is pretty obvious: treating men and women differently in the same situation.  Indirect sexism however is a little more subtle, especially in the workplace.  One of the types of behaviors it includes is when people discriminate against those who have a particular characteristic/set of behaviors, but those characteristics/sets of behaviors tend to be possessed largely by one gender.*** The example would be say, someone who hates everyone over 5'10''.  In theory it's equal opportunity dislike, but in practice it will cover a lot more men than women.

Now I'm not aiming to be a women's studies class here, so you can ponder for yourself if you feel that indirect sexism is an issue or not.****  However, I bring this up not to talk about the workplace, but rather so I can pivot 90 degrees to talk about education.

Recently I've seen some good stuff talking about gender and education.  A few weeks ago, James (who does some great dives in to various studies and you should read his stuff, btw) at I Don't Know, But... did an interesting post about the use of non-cognitive measures in education, and if that ended up biasing things against boys vs girls (non-cognitive measures being things like being neat, orderly and helpful).

Today, Althouse linked to this piece talking about the same study and some perspective on how non-cognitive skills could actually quite accurately play in to grades (example: the ability to pass in legible homework).

Both posts address some interesting questions on research related to my description of indirect sexism above.  In either case, are we studying sexism, or are we studying discrimination against traits that are linked to gender?  Does it make a difference in how we study or approach these things?

There's some evidence that teachers discriminate across gender lines against behavior that disrupts orderly classrooms, but with classroom management being part of their job, would this really be discrimination?  If a woman cries***** during a tense meeting at work, is losing respect for her discrimination or just a reaction to unprofessional behavior?

I'd be interested to hear what some of my teacher readers think.  Is there a problem with education for boys, or there just a set of unhelpful traits?

*The instance of me using some variation of the phrase "how does that make you feel" shot up over 1000% over the course of getting my master's degree.
**I may have these names wrong, or be missing a nuance.  Third wave feminism makes me sleepy.
***This relates to a running joke of mine that I've said on the few occasions when I've been in discussions about my preferred gender for my obstetrician "I don't care if they're male or female...I just want one who's actually been through childbirth"
****My brilliant answer?  It depends.
*****When I worked in the ER, crying at work was something that actually happened to both genders.  Even the men had to occasionally lock themselves in the bathroom for a bit of a time out/regroup.  The child abuse cases tended to do everyone in.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Where to live and how much it will cost you

The Washington Post had an interesting headline today about the ridiculously long waits veterans in Maryland are facing when they try to file disability claims.  Apparently the average wait is over a year....429 days, which is also 162 days longer than the national average.  Also, their accuracy sucks.  Yikes.

The reasons for the issues were plentiful: large numbers of applicants, influxes they couldn't handle, pilot programs they weren't ready for, good management being poached by the (close by) national office, and high staff turnover.  In the midst of it all though, I was interested to see this excuse get thrown out there:
“The ability to attract talented candidates was challenging due to the high cost of living in the Baltimore commuting area,” VA said in a statement.
Now maybe it's just because I've lived in Boston for so long, but I thought it was a little strange to see someone in Baltimore complain about a high cost of living.  I was pretty sure this was just normal bureaucratic excuse making, but I decided to take a look around the internet and see if I couldn't figure out if there was some legitimacy to it.

It turns out there are a lot of different ways to measure how pricey a city is.

Kiplinger's seemed pretty comprehensive...they factor in housing, transportation, groceries, health care and "miscellaneous".   They rank Boston as #8, Baltimore doesn't make the top 10.

CNN money provides a cost of living calculator that claims that if you made $100k in Boston, you'd only need to make $86,774 in Baltimore to keep your standard of living.  They even give you a break down of which categories make the biggest difference (health care and utilities are much less in Baltimore compared to Boston, groceries and transportation slightly less, and housing equal).

It appears that what you count as a city makes a big difference too....for example the Council for Community and Economic Research split up New York City, and thus has Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens as 3 of the top 10 most expensive cities.

This list struck me as a little odd, until I realized they played an interesting semantics game....this isn't "most expensive" it's "least affordable".  The report it linked to clarified that they counted housing and transportation costs, and then compared them to median incomes in the area.  Cities that had high costs but also high incomes were not included...they were targeting cities with low incomes but high costs.  That puts Boston and Baltimore as almost identical.

Overall, I thought the different ways of counting were pretty interesting.  I'm still not buying that Baltimore's facing any particularly unique challenge of cost, but more likely that those interested in living in the area and working for the government would rather go a few miles down the road to DC.  Also, I've been to Baltimore, and I got a little curious what would happen if you priced out the good areas of Baltimore.  Once you get outside the inner harbor and a few other areas, things go downhill in a hurry, so I wouldn't be surprised if the average costs were a bit skewed.

Ah well, at least they have the Lombardi trophy for the year.  You know, once they found it.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Football, head trauma, and some good data

Now that the lights are back on at the Super Bowl, I thought I'd take a minute to highlight some research I'm actually pretty excited for.  Harvard University and the NFL are teaming up and dedicating $100 million to study brain injury in players over the next 10 years.

I'm happy about this research not just because I think we owe it to players who may be living with consequences they never realized they could have (especially the non-super stars), but also because I think brain injuries are a seriously under recognized issue in every day people.  Even if the research starts with football players, I have a feeling we'll all benefit from research around how injury harms the brain.

As a wrestling fan and a BU alum, I've been following the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy  for a while now.  It's a collaboration between the BU med school and the Sports Legacy Institute, which was founded by former professional wrestler Christopher Nowinski (he was the WWF's first Harvard grad).  They've been doing good work in this area, in part by getting athletes to sign on to donating their brains post-mortem.

The research here could be truly stunning, since your control group is huge but your study group is motivated.  Between these two groups, it's going to be interesting to see what they come out with....and what the game looks like 10 years from now.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday Fun Links 1-28-13

I'm trying to learn how to use Twitter now, so I'm still learning this whole hashtag thing.  However, I know enough to know I love #middleearthpublichealth

This guy changes music based in a minor scale in to music based on a major scale.  While it likely makes hipsters cry, I found it fascinating.

Statistics, it's all fun and games until someone gets accused of using data to aid an international conspiracy against Greece.

Have I ever told you I'm one of the few people under 35 who actually knows how to use a slide rule?  Well I am.  Oh hey, here's one now!

I don't know why I found this so interesting, but here are the most searched for out of print books in 2012.  Good job Madonna, still #1.