Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Fun Links 5-31-13

Well, we hit 94 degrees in Boston today, and I'm parked on the couch with some banana peanut butter frozen yogurt and a deep thankfulness that the weekend's upon us.  Here's some fun links to keep you amused:

First, Jezebel covers the best/most ridiculous acapella group names.  Aural Fixation from my alma mater made it, but I was a little surprised to see that the MIT Logarhythms  didn't get a mention.

This link actually wasn't that was annoying.  It's allegedly a list of "disappointing facts for geeks"...but almost the entire lists consists of "movie x made more than movie y" with none of the numbers adjusted for inflation.  My favorite from the comments section "good news for geeks...we know bad math when we see it!"

This is very cool:  Pangea with modern political borders.  Apparently I would have been living right next to Morocco.

This is my new favorite website, btw...the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.  An excerpt:
n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

Alright, now some analytics you can really you live in IHOP America or Waffle House America?

If that's too lowbrow for you, how about this:  could you pass Eton's admissions exam?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday Quickies: Moms as breadwinners

I've seen a few headlines in the past few days about the study that showed that moms are breadwinners in 4 out of 10 households.  It's based on this Pew Research study, and I feel like there's a few nuances not made clear in the headline:
  • The denominator was not women or couples, the denominator was "households with children under 18".  Thus any women without children or whose children are over 18 were not counted.
  • 63% of the female breadwinner households were single mothers
  • Of the 37% who were not single mothers, the only requirement was that they out-earn their husband.  There is no mention of a minimum a wife who earns $1000/year more than her husband is counted the same way a wife earning $50,000/year more is counted.  
Also interesting:  married households with female breadwinners have an income of four times more than households with a single female at the head ($80,000/year vs $23,000/year).  Households with a male breadwinner have a median income of about $78,000/year.  This shows some interesting selection guess is that women who earn high salaries and out earn their husbands are less likely to quit/drop to part time when kids come on the scene.  Since part of the normal debate around working/not working post-baby is "does my salary cover daycare costs", it would make sense that women who could answer a resounding "yes" would be more likely to stay on and keep the family income higher.

Thursday Quickies: Stats, law, college and sexual assault

Eugene Volokh had up an interesting article that touch on the intersection of stats and law.  It was on the topic of campus tribunals that hear sexual assault cases, and I thought it showed a fundamental principle of stats fairly nicely: when in doubt, put it in words.   He does this with 3 legal standards for evidence: beyond a reasonable doubt (95% confidence), clear and convincing evidence (75% to 80% confidence) and a preponderance of evidence (51% or more confidence).  He then says to determine the standard we should convert this in to words:
  • Better that 19  students  guilty of sexual assault remain at the university, with no discipline imposed, than one innocent student be expelled or otherwise disciplined
  • Better that 4 students guilty of sexual assault remain at the university, with no discipline imposed, than one innocent student be expelled
  • These outcomes are about equally bad for both students and the university
There's some other interesting legal discussion in his post, but I thought the conversion of legal standards and probabilities in to clear sentences was a particularly helpful way to frame the discussion.

Thursday Quickies: Patient "engagement" plus cost

First, I got in to a Twitter discussion today with patient engagement advocate Dave deBronkart about his article that criticized this study.  The study was being advertised under the headline "When doctors and patients share in decision making, hospital costs go up".  The issue is the headline implies that the study looked at what happened when patients and doctors made decisions together.  In reality, the study asked admitted patients if they felt they should make decisions with the doctor, not whether or not they actually did.  It turns out that the costs for the individual hospital stay was about $860 higher for those who wanted to collaborate (median cost was $14,000 to begin with).  None of this was tied to outcome or future costs, so we have no idea if this was $800 that saved money in the long run, or $800 wasted.  It's pretty insidious, because it's being used to justify a rather paternalistic model of medicine that many people (including Dave) have been working hard to get away from.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

High School Rankings

John Tierney has an interesting piece up at the Atlantic about how national high school rankings are not only meaningless, but actually harmful.

He doesn't quibble much with local rankings, and agrees that if done correctly they can provide good information for residents.  As for national level rankings though, he says this:
let's call national rankings of high schools what they are: nonsense. There is no way to say, with any degree of accuracy at all, where any given high school ranks in relation to others in terms of how good it is or how challenging it is. 
Now this seems pretty sensible to me.  Ranking all the schools in a given state against each other can be meaningful, though more so within ranges than with strict numbers (is there really a meaningful difference between #34 in the state and #35?).  But to pluck a few from around the country?  That's not even useful.  When my husband and I went to buy a house, we knew the general area we were looking at, and school rankings were one of many factors we looked at when picking a town to buy in.  I'm pretty sure most people  do something similar.  This works of course because we already had the region picked out and knew the trade offs that came with the individual regions.  You're not going to use national rankings like this.

Additionally, he notes that at least one of the national lists (the "Challenge Index" from the Washington Post) literally uses only one metric to determine a challenging high school: the number of AP (or similar) tests taken by the seniors at the high school, divided by the number of seniors:

Note that the numerator is not even the number of such exams passed, but merely the number taken. So, a given school can rise on the list by increasing the number of its students who take "advanced" classes. Conversely, schools that are more discerning and thoughtful about which students ought to be taking AP classes end up suffering in the rankings. So, the list produces nonsensical anomalies such as high schools with very low graduation rates ranking much higher on the "Challenge Index" than excellent schools that don't game the ranking system...
This idea of ranking interested me.  Ultimately, we actually picked the school district we did in part because of the options it holds for the not-so-academically inclined.  Don't get me wrong, it's in the top 20% of high schools in the state, but not by much.  More importantly, the regional technical high school is here, and there's opportunities to learn how to make a good living even if college isn't your thing.  I live in a state with a great educational system, and my town is no exception.  I'm less worried about AP tests, and more worried about school districts that might push kids in to inappropriate classes to keep their numbers up, to the detriment of the child.  While a certain baseline level of knowledge should be mandatory, I want my son to be challenged, but not tortured.  I'm suspicious of schools who try to hard on these lists, because school ranking and the best interest of the child don't always collide.

Looking further down the line, it's interesting to note that even more advanced methodologies almost always use the percent of kids headed to college as a judge of the high school's rigor.  As college costs continue to spiral and become and worse and worse investment, I'm curious if we're going to see a bigger and bigger divide between rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods in terms of rankings.  This could drive people out of the poorer neighborhoods, not because the schools were actually worse, but because the metric used to assess them is so contingent on parents have the cash to send their kids to college.  Things to ponder.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Social media growth

I saw a weird headline last week about how teens interest in Facebook has been waning.

I was curious what constituted "waning", and it appears that most of the proof is that other social media platforms are growing quickly.  What was interesting is that buried in the report is the Facebook ubiquity level among teams: 94%.

I'm sort of curious how any software that has that level of ubiquity could be doing anything other than "waning".  It certainly can't be going up.

Also entertaining: Facebook execs called Facebooks loss of young people an "urban legend".  I'm pretty sure a company that's less than 10 years old shouldn't describe anything as an urban legend.

Just for giggles, here's the growth chart:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Fun Links 5-24-13

Interesting stuff from Juice Analytics...30 days to better data storytelling.

Also, just in time for summer, a whole bunch of science reading.  I just finished Space Chronicles and am starting My Beloved Brontosaurus.

Speaking of dinosaurs, here's the list of best to worst.

On a fun note, here's 20 biopic actors and the famous people they played.  I always thought Charlize Theron deserved every bit of that Oscar she got for Monster.

In other news, here's the top 10 species discovered in 2012.  The Semachrysa jadeis my favorite story.  It was found on Flickr.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's hard out there boys

Ann Althouse linked to an article about the struggle of working class male undergrads vs middle-class undergrads:

Combine the “chiselled out of rock” body of actor Ryan Reynolds, the intellectual prowess of writer Christopher Hitchens and the “funny, quirky” demeanour of film star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and you have the perfect role model for male middle-class undergraduates. 
But while bourgeois students can “seamlessly integrate” many types of masculinity, a study at two universities concludes that their working-class peers find squaring the many demands placed on the modern man more challenging.

This looked like an interesting study, and I was all ready to read up on it...but it hasn't been published yet.  It's a conference paper.  That's fine, but I was pretty interested that this article gave pretty much zero proof of the assertion that middle class males were seamlessly integrating different types of masculinity, or that working class ones were struggling.  The only piece of data reported suggested that middle class men weree integrating anything was that they included "well groomed" and "metrosexual" as priorities in being good looking, whereas working class men did not.

Other than that, the article was mostly researcher's continued assertion that this phenomena occurred...though I question her bias a bit as she stated that working class men's way of thinking about intelligence "belies an assumption of entitlement to dominance....arguably a refashioning of traditional male hegemony”.

So how much of this is data and how much was spin?  Who knows.  Despite what the journalist is reporting, we might all just have to wait for the paper.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Anti-science is party neutral

I didn't mention it in my post yesterday, but part of the impetus to my father sending me the link about the water fluoridation was an ongoing discussion we have about the reputation of Republicans as "anti-science".  I actually get asked about this a lot, and my standard answer tends to be something along the lines of "I think almost everyone is anti-science".

If it's a topic that interests you, I suggest you check out Harriet Hall's latest post at Science Based Medicine about progressive mythology in science.  Lots of "natural is always better" type fallacies.

Some people in the comments are noting that libertarians and lefties can frequently wind up on the same side of some of these issues (like with water fluoridation), but I think it's slightly different for the libertarians.  At least the ones that I know don't so much think water fluoridation is bad, as that the government should be letting individuals choose.  That's annoying to public health people, but it's a political opinion, not a scientific one.


You may noticed I've added my Twitter feed to the side bar.  I've just started messing with it a bit, but I'm putting up some interesting links that I don't get a chance to write about here, and it felt weird to keep things separate.  

Complaints/comments/concerns welcome as always, and if you have Twitter, follow me!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fluoride in the water (fire in the sky)

My Dad sent me an article today about Portland's ongoing debate about putting fluoride in their water.

There's a lot of interesting science around water fluoridation, but that's not what caught my eye.  What I noticed was this paragraph:

 Almost every credible national, state, and local health and science organization—private and public—gives its blessing to optimal levels of water fluoridation: The American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Health Organization, American Academy of Family Physicians, and  the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which named the measure one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. They all agree that fluoridated water is perfectly safe and extremely effective at preventing tooth decay.
I was intrigued by that paragraph because the link they provide for the organizations that support water fluoridation has 11 pages of organization names and their statements supporting it.

While there's many well known names on there, I was thinking about how hard it really is to know about lesser known organizations, and how easy it is to confuse various organization names.

Example: the American Medical Association is one of the biggest medical groups in the country.  The Association of American Physicians is a group dedicated to furthering biomedical research.  The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is a group dedicated to "fighting socialized medicine and the government takeover of medicine".

Now you might recognize the difference between the first one and the other two, but my guess is most people will not remember which one is which 20 minutes after you finish reading this blog post.

Now I'm certainly not saying that these 11 pages are crap...there's some big names on that list.  What I am saying is that random names of groups is something people must take some due diligence to investigate.  I'm sure that the anti-fluoridation people could also come up with a long list of organizations that support them, even if it represented far fewer people.  In this age of propaganda, we must remember that organization names alone may not be enough to convince people.   Too much data causes overload, and we can't blame people for this.  Now go brush your teeth.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Weekend randomness

Every time I hear someone say they're random, I think of 14 year old girls Myspace pages, and I remember why Facebook won.

I also think of computer programming classes, and how I always get way too interested in how different programming languages come up with their random numbers.  Some use a digit somewhere in the computers time stamp.  This website uses atmospheric noise.  Now that's random. 

Want to see how good you are at being random?  

Try these tests.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Fun Links 5-17-13

Hey it's Friday!  And Arrested Development's almost back!  Here's a graph of all the running jokes!

Speaking of which, want a text the second Netflix posts the next season?  Instructions for text notification here.

Now seriously, Friday is tough.  Here's the 21 stages of Friday.

On a down note, the cicadas are coming.  Here's how far they've gotten.

Oh well, apparently they're edible.  Here's how to cook them.

Does that gross you out?  Fine.  Here's how much money it would take to build the Starship Enterprise.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Race and wealth, relative or absolute?

Recently, my brother was a contributor to an infographic his organization put together about race and the wealth gap.   Despite knowing that I am inherently biased against infographics, he called me and asked my opinion on some criticism it had received.  The whole thing's fairly large, so I'm only posting the piece that caused the controversy:
The graph at the top had caused some commenters to question the use of "average" in lieu of median, and if it was skewing the results.  

Luckily, since my brother has listened to me rant for years about people not sourcing their facts, he had mad sure this graphic included the source of the numbers...a report from the Urban Institute that can be found here

I was interested to see that they not only acknowledge that they use average over median, but also give the median numbers to show that the trend is essentially the same.  Here they are for 2010: 
                       Average               Median 
White             632,000                124,000                                                                                         
Black             98,000                  16,000                                                                                        
Hispanic        110,000                15,000

Using average numbers, the absolute gap between incomes is larger...however I was interested to see that using median the ratio of incomes would have looked larger (8 times lager vs 6 times larger).  Honestly, there's pluses and minuses to using either angle.

Absolute inequality generally favors the gap (higher value - lower value) as the important measure.  This can make sense in some situations, but it tends to depend on where you start.  The difference between a person who makes $20,000/year and someone who makes $90,000/year is very different from the difference between someone who makes $90,000/year and someone who makes $160,000/year.  

Relative inequality looks more at the ratio between two numbers.  It also really depends on where you start, and is skewed by small starting numbers.  If I change the price of something from 50 cents to a dollar, it's doubled, but you still can likely afford it.  If I change it from $20 to $40, I'm going to lose some customers.

So given that, did they use the right one here?  Well, I think it was probably a toss up choice.  Picking average made the graph and some numbers below look larger, but they made the 2010 ratio numbers look smaller.  If they had switched from average to median depending on what was more substantial, I would have taken issue, but as it is I don't think there was anything deceptive going on.  After all, had they used the median numbers, they would have also changed the axis and the difference would have looked just as dramatic.  

There's always the possibility that they could have put both to prove this point, but I'm pretty sure only someone like me would have enjoyed that.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wednesday Brain Teaser 5-15-13

What digit is the most frequent between 1 and 1,000 (inclusive)?

What digit is the least frequent?

Also, can you beat the AVI's score on GeoGuesser?  Apparently he hit 28,000.  I think I created a monster on this one.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Whoa unto you, you generation of vipers

I saw an interesting study today that claimed that 51% of Christians were actually acting more like Pharisees than Christ.  It was based on a survey given to almost 800 people of a variety of Christian persuasions (practicing Catholic, practicing Protestant, notional (identifies as Christian but does not go to church), Evangelical, and born-again but non-Evangelical), and it asked them a series of 20 questions to assess their attitudes and actions, and gave them a score of "Pharisee-like" or "Christ-like".  Here's what they found:

They did some interesting breakdowns here, and had some good documentation of their methods.  My only qualm really, is how did they get the assessment questions?  

Here they are:
Actions like Jesus:
  • I listen to others to learn their story before telling them about my faith.
  • In recent years, I have influenced multiple people to consider following Christ.
  • I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.
  • I try to discover the needs of non-Christians rather than waiting for them to come to me.
  • I am personally spending time with non-believers to help them follow Jesus.
Attitudes like Jesus:
  • I see God-given value in every person, regardless of their past or present condition.
  • I believe God is for everyone.
  • I see God working in people’s lives, even when they are not following him.
  • It is more important to help people know God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.
  • I feel compassion for people who are not following God and doing immoral things.
Self-Righteous Actions:
  • I tell others the most important thing in my life is following God’s rules.
  • I don’t talk about my sins or struggles. That’s between me and God.
  • I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.
  • I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.
  • I prefer to serve people who attend my church rather than those outside the church.
Self-Righteous Attitudes:
  • I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things.
  • It’s not my responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  • I feel grateful to be a Christian when I see other people’s failures and flaws.
  • I believe we should stand against those who are opposed to Christian values.
  • People who follow God’s rules are better than those who do not.
Now I don't know how many of these statements most people would or would not agree with, but I thought a more interesting list could have been generated by asking various scholars in each of the surveyed denominations what their definitions were.  Different people have different interpretations of things, and statements like "I find it hard to be friends with people who seem to constantly do the wrong things." seem pretty likely to mean different things to different people.  I mean, I'm not friends with people who steal my stuff or are continuously mean to me.  Is that self-righteous?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Beard research

Last week I ran in to two different studies about beards.  This was interesting, as it's not normally a hot topic in academia.  

My Dad has a beard, and except for two brief occasions, has had one my entire life.  Thus I was interested to see that beards might actually help keep you young.  Apparently the block UV rays from getting to your skin and help prevent skin damage.  My only question would be if this helps your whole face or just the part covered by the beard (Dad you could be like 23 under there!)

Second, there was this report on two studies where researchers tried to find out which type of facial hair women found most attractive.  Apparently it's stubble.  The study that ruled out beards apparently took women from cultures where men did not traditionally wear beards (Somoan/Polynesian) and showed them pictures of men clean shaven, and pictures of the same men after 6 weeks of growth.  The rated clean shaven more highly.

Studies that focus on attractiveness levels like that are always a little strange to me, especially with something like facial hair.  While having a control group is good for a study, most people do not choose their facial hair style at random...they go for what they're comfortable with/what looks good on them.  Some men can rock a beard, some look goofy.  There's a context here that a controlled study misses.  

Also, beards not trimmed for 6 weeks are gross.  I've seen sports teams during winning streaks.  Things get yucky in a hurry.  

While we're on the topic, apparently there's a website called Awesome Beards.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Saturday Fun Links 5-11-13

Would you care to ponder your place in time and space?  Here's a good visualization.

As for space, I have my favorite new game.  It's called Geo Guesser.  It gives you a random picture of a spot somewhere in the world, and you have to guess where it is.  The closest I've been is 1800 km off.  My high score is 7329.

If that games got you tripped up, explore your neighborhood while running away from zombies here.

Speaking of geography, check out this infographic on which state employee makes the most money in each state.  Spoiler alert: it's coaches.  But who should be the best paid?  Jonathan suggests the state house tour guides.  I like that.

Hey, it's my first Mother's Day!  Husband's out of town on business, so I'm spending the day babysitting (can you still call it that when he's yours?)  Anyway, here are some animal moms that deserve a break.

Oh, and a very happy graduation day to my little sister who's getting her bachelors of nursing today!  Your patients are lucky to have you!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Details details

I have some fun links for later in the day, but looking at the news this morning I wanted to ponder something that's truly bugging me.

I've been reading about the "happy they were found but horrible it happened" situation in Cleveland (if you don't know what I'm talking about, try here, but not if you don't want your day wrecked).  When I first read about it, I was horrified, as I think most people were.  At the time the story broke, I took a look in the comments section, and I was really surprised to see how many people latched on to wildly speculative details that have turned out to be incorrect.  

Why do people still do this?

In the age of the internet every major story that breaks suddenly has severe factual inaccuracies reported in the first 24-48 hours.  It happens over and over again, and yet there are still people dedicating time and keyboard space to long screeds about whatever unconfirmed detail they think is relevant.  

Is it really so hard to just say "that's awful" for the first 2 days until the facts start coming in?  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wednesday brain teaser 5-8-13



4500= ?

If you're stumped, here's a hint: an average five year old could get the answer....quite possibly more quickly than an adult could.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Generally specific

In my post yesterday, I cited a Gallup Poll that asked people "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?"

I was intrigued when I noticed that the top answer was "the economy in general".  Other top answers included unemployment, the deficit, lack of money, poverty and taxes.  This interested me because if I told you I was concerned about the economy, I would have been talking about all of those things.  I decided to take a closer look at the methodology for the survey (it's a PDF at the bottom of the link above) and found that apparently this question is open ended, and then the results are grouped from there.

I thought this was interesting, because asking people like this lends itself to people getting general on you, with words that they have their own meaning for.  Someone worried about the economy could mean mostly unemployment, or mostly the deficit, or any combination of things.

This problem arises in polls with pre-programmed answers too.  People tend to gravitate towards the biggest possible categories when asked to pick a top concern.  It's good to remember this when hearing reports on what people care about.  It's always a good idea to look at the other options and see if their categories were more limiting.  We like to keep our options open.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Background checks...can I see some ID?

Last week I did a set of polls where I asked readers to weigh in on how old they defined "young" as in various situations.  The answers didn't totally surprise for "youngness" seems to begin to drop when you hit 18 and peter out by the time you hit 30 or 35.

What triggered the question to begin with was a link someone put up on facebook to a letter from a young conservative girl about gun control.  When I read the headline, I had been thinking that this "young girl" was going to be 15 or 16, maybe a college student at the most.  I took a look at the picture accompanying the article and was interested that the woman pictured looked a bit older than I had thought.  I did a little digging, and from the best I can tell, the author (Katie Kieffer) seems to be about 30*.

It's a little nit-picky, I know, but I'm 31 and if someone under 80 or so called me a "young girl" I'd be surprised.  My theory is that politics is dominated by older people, and thus people are described as young for longer than in everyday life.  Just a theory.

Anyway, what really caught my eye about her article was what she labeled "Obama Lie #1":

Obama Lie #1: “90 percent of Americans” support the Manchin-Toomey bill for extended background checks.
False. According to the latest Gallup Poll, just 4 percent of Americans think that guns/gun control is the most important issue facing our country. That means 96 percent of Americans are NOT worried about this issue and would not support increased gun control, especially if they knew the truth about background checks. Dr. John Lott has shown that: “There is no real scientific evidence among criminologists and economists that background checks actually reduce crime.”
Now honestly, I grew up in New Hampshire.  I think I was 9 the first time I fired a gun.  I find it relaxing. I'm not big on laws I see as reactionary that lack evidence to back up their methods. But characterizing this as a lie?  That seems a bit much.

For the first part: the Washington Post/ABC poll did, in fact, find that 90% of people agreed with expanding background checks to gun shows.  The Pew research center put it at 85%.   Now there are definitely details you could use to protest this: Obama actually said 90% support universal background checks, and these asked about gun show background checks...different wording could cause different answers.  Different polls find different numbers, 90% is on the high side, etc.  At the end of the day though, there are legitimate polls showing high support for background checks at gun shows.

What truly baffled me was her assertion that "96% of Americans are NOT worried about this issue and would not support increase gun control".  I looked up the Gallup Poll she cited and found that the exact question asked was "What do you think the most important problem facing this country today?".  It's true that only 4% listed guns, but I'm pretty sure no one thought that classifying one of these issue as "most important" was saying that they wouldn't support any action on any of the other things on the list.   Other things that scored lower than guns: ethics and moral decline, education, taxes and immigration.  I'm sure everyone will be thrilled to know we don't need to talk about those any more

In conclusion, I think Obama quoted the poll with a fair degree of accuracy.  Results of a different poll with a completely different question don't actually make that in to a lie.

It's a pity because her last statement, about a lack of evidence that background checks work, actually has some credibility.  It looks like the biggest point of impact is actually suicides in those 55+, but not much on homicides.

*Her bio lists that she started the St Thomas Standard in her sophomore year of college, when most people are about 20.  The St Thomas Standard lists their founding date as 2003.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Small but quantifiable

There's been a few interesting headlines about the dangers of swaddling babies.

I always find these types of stories interesting...essentially you have a practice for children called in to question because someone did it in the wrong way/with the wrong age group*, and then the headlines act like the whole practice is questionable.  Sigh.

Here's the thing:  swaddling (wrapping babies up snugly in a blanket) is safe if done right.  I did it, and stopped between 2 and 3 months old when the little lord got too wiggly.  For a newborn though, it calms them down.  This makes sense...they spent 9 months in a snug environment, and it makes them feel safe.  If you know anyone having a baby, get them these.  They do the work for you.  They're awesome.

Anyway, there apparently are some people questioning whether this practice should stop being recommended because if you do it wrong or for too long, it's bad.  I think this is a great example of letting a small but quantifiable risk (ie the risk of SIDS) trump a larger but less quantifiable risk.

Babies who aren't swaddled don't calm as easily or sleep as well...or at least mine didn't (and I hear I'm not alone).  Parents who have screaming awake babies get tired and frustrated.  How many car accidents would be caused by sleepy parents?  Injury to the child due to inattention?  Cases of shaken baby syndrome because the child wouldn't sleep?  This would be impossible to measure, but the risks of having a newborn who doesn't sleep well are very very real.  After all, this (admittedly small) study found that 70% of mothers of colicky infants have fantasized explicitly about harming their that point the risk of SIDS is far smaller than the risk of the mother not getting any sleep.

I get the seduction of prioritizing those things which are easily measured, but we should never lose sight of what's less I think I'm gonna go get some sleep!

*In this case they managed to swaddle a 7 month old and a 1 year old.  I can barely get a diaper on my 9 month old....I have no idea how they swaddled them.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Friday Fun Links 5-3-13 (late late late edition)

Oops, forgot to post these yesterday.  Oddly, I forgot in part because I am headed to the funeral of ANOTHER uncle named James.  I know I know, losing one is misfortune, losing a second looks like carelessness*.

Anyway, who needs some brain bleach?  I do!

First, we've got the muppets and Star Wars, all mixed up!  I loved Jim Henson, he was amazing.

I don't know about you, but we definitely busted out the grill this week.  Grilling as a weeknight activity is one of my favorite things about summer.  Here's 28 badass burgers to make this weekend.

My other favorite thing about this time of year is that Game of Thrones is on!  I am more addicted to this show/series than I have been to any pop culture phenomena in a long time.  I think I spent almost 2 hours this week discussing it with various people.  There's quite the debate around whether you should read the books first or watch the show first, and I thought this list did a good job of highlighting which characters come off better in the show than in the books.  For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, let me just say if you want to see/read a series that completely turns tropes on their head without ever going in to "you're just trying to be clever" territory (and you don't mind brutal sex and violence), watch/read it. You're welcome.

If this research is wrong, I don't want to be right.

And now a video.  Edison vs Tesla - the rap battle (and yes, there's a whole series of these...Mozart vs Skrillex is worthwhile)

*Forgive me the gallows humor, I love Oscar Wilde, and it's been a long month.  This is my husband's uncle, and he'd had a stroke AND cancer for a while now.  While we're glad he's no longer suffering, it's still very sad.  He was a funny and good man, and he was only 60.  The surrealness of the names/proximity of deaths is pretty weird, all in all.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reliable Source, indeed

On my commute in this morning, I was listening to an interview with Jason Collins, the NBA player who recently became the first active/pro/major sport athlete to come out as a homosexual.  He's an interesting guy, and it's an interesting story, but one I never thought of as potential blog fodder...until I saw this story about how Howard Kurtz had been let go from the Daily Beast for his inaccurate commentary on the story.

In a piece that was first edited, then retracted on the Daily Beast, Kurtz wrote a grumpy column accusing Collins of disingenuously failing to mention that he had been engaged to a woman he was in an 8 year relationship with.  The problem was that Collins actually had mentioned this, in both the article and in subsequent interviews. It was even on the first page of the article and everything (paragraph 8 if you're curious).  

What makes this noteworthy (for me anyway) is that Kurtz is the host of a show on CNN called "Reliable Sources", and is apparently the author of several books that criticize the media.  Seems like with a gig like that you'd double check things.

Anyway, I thought this was interesting because the Collins article is one of the most talked about and widely read articles in pop culture this week, and a fairly famous journalist completely mischaracterized it.  It served as a reminder to me about how little to trust we should put in journalists, and how you should always seek out primary sources.  I mean, if you can get a widely read human interest piece wrong, how can you trust that someone is going to take the time to sort through the technical science/math language of most research papers?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Wednesday Brain Teaser 5-1-13

Did you know Lewis Carroll was a mathematician?  Here's one of his favorite ones:

On return from the battlefield, the regiment is badly battle-scarred.  If 70% of the soldiers have lost an eye, 75% have lost an ear, 85% have lost a leg and 80% have lost an arm, what percentage at least must have lost all four?