Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Darwin award nominee

Sometimes I wonder whether Freud was right about thanatos:
Last year, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Doug Evans brought us the Juicero machine, a $400 gadget designed solely to squeeze eight ounces of liquid from proprietary bags of fruits and vegetables, which went for $5 to $8 apiece. Though the cold-pressed juice company initially wrung millions from investors, its profits ran dry last fall after journalists at Bloomberg revealed that the pricy pouch-pressing machine was, in fact, unnecessary. The journalists simply squeezed juice out of the bags by hand.
But this didn’t crush Evans. He immediately plunged into a new—and yet somehow even more dubious—beverage trend: “raw” water.
The term refers to unfiltered, untreated, unsterilized water collected from natural springs. In the ten days following Juicero’s collapse, Evans underwent a cleanse, drinking only raw water from a company called Live Water, according to The New York Times. “I haven’t tasted tap water in a long time,” he told the Times. And Evans isn’t alone; he’s a prominent member of a growing movement to “get off the water grid,” the paper reports.
Members are taking up the unrefined drink due to both concern for the quality of tap water and the perceived benefits of drinking water in a natural state. Raw water enthusiasts are wary of the potential for contaminants in municipal water, such as traces of unfilterable pharmaceuticals and lead from plumbing. Some are concerned by harmless additives in tap water, such as disinfectants and fluoride, which effectively reduces tooth decay. Moreover, many believe that drinking “living” water that’s organically laden with minerals, bacteria, and other “natural” compounds has health benefits, such as boosting “energy” and “peacefulness.”
Other benefits: cholera, typhoid fever, E.coli.
Natural water sources are vulnerable to all manner of natural pathogens. These include any bacteria, viruses, and parasites normally found in water or shed from nearby flora and fauna, such as Legionella and Giardia lamblia. They also can easily pick up environmental contaminants and naturally occurring hazards such as radiation from certain mineral deposits. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA has set standards and regulations for 90 different contaminants in tap water, including microorganisms, disinfectants, and radionuclides. And for bottled water, the Food and Drug Administration has set standards and can inspect bottling facilities. But such assurances aren’t in place for scouted spring water.
For its part, Live Water posted on its website a water quality report from an analysis conducted in 2015. The analysis looked at many contaminants but doesn’t appear to cover everything that the EPA monitors. For instance, there’s no mention of testing for pathogens such as Legionella and Giardia.
Drink up, bros.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Last fake academic journal spam of the year---maybe?

After a silence of several years, what shows up in my inbox but  another spam email from the fake academic journal International Journal of Education and Social Science, published by the fake academic publisher Research Institute for Progression of Knowledge (RIPK), this one signed warmly, from Dr. George Branner Jr..DH Kaye, at Flaky Academic Journals has done some research on this operation, for which many thanks.

On the subjection of women

Is this a nothing or a something? I can't tell:
Police in Iran’s capital said Thursday they will no longer arrest women for failing to observe the Islamic dress code in place since the 1979 revolution.
The announcement signaled an easing of punishments for violating the country’s conservative dress code, as called for by the young and reform-minded Iranians who helped re-elect President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, earlier this year.
But hard-liners opposed to easing such rules still dominate Iran’s security forces and judiciary, so it was unclear whether the change would be fully implemented.
“Those who do not observe the Islamic dress code will no longer be taken to detention centers, nor will judicial cases be filed against them.” Tehran police chief Gen. Hossein Rahimi was quoted as saying by the reformist daily Sharq.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency said violators will instead be made to attend classes given by police. It said repeat offenders could still be subject to legal action, and the dress code remains in place outside the capital.
And this is happening in the context of (slight, very slight) easing up on the restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia. I don't know whether the New York Times is over-hyping this, though.
Now Iran and Saudi Arabia, the archrivals of the Middle East, are competing in a surprising new category: gender equality.
They appear to be vying over who can be quicker to overhaul their repressive rules for women.
In Saudi Arabia, one of the most restrictive countries for women, the authorities this week allowed female contestants at an international chess tournament to play without the full-body garb known as an abaya. That decision is the latest in a string of liberalizing moves by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young Saudi ruler, which includes letting women drive.
(The cynic in me wants to say that he is allowing women to drive so they can drive to his palace to pay him the billion dollar bribes he demands to release the dozens? hunderds? he's been holding prisoner).
Roya Hakakian, an Iranian-American poet and journalist who co-founded the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in New Haven, Conn., wrote in an opinion column published on Wednesday in The New York Times that women in Iran and Saudi Arabia had benefited from “competition between the two regimes to earn the mantle of the modern moderate Islamic alternative.”
She quoted Mariam Memarsadeghi, a co-founder of Tavaana, a civil education website about Iran, who now lives in the United States, as saying that she was not only happy for Saudi women, but “thrilled that the Iranian regime’s false moral superiority is punctured, that the Iranian regime’s laws and actions against women’s rights are made to look backward even by a country long seen as the region’s most backward.”
Others do not necessarily see a link, attributing the changes in Iran to other causes. They say Iran’s young population has proved far more resistant to the government’s societal restraints compared with their parents. The relaxed enforcement of a women’s dress code in Iran may be partly rooted in the impracticality of prosecuting, fining and imprisoning violators.
“Arresting the women and trials in court proved to be too time-consuming,” said Nader Karimi Joni, an Iranian journalist in Tehran. The law has not changed, he said, but now, “cash fines and lashes are at times substituted by ‘educational classes.’”
Others pointed out that Iran still requires women to wear head coverings in public. Shahrzad Razaghi, a 24-year-old Tehran artist arrested in 2012 for not wearing her hijab properly, said the new enforcement policy “doesn’t mean I can go on the streets without a hijab.”
And in Saudi Arabia, the granting of driving privileges to women, while seen as a quantum leap there, is a right long held by women in Iran, elsewhere in the Middle East and the rest of the world. What women are permitted to wear outside, another issue in Saudi Arabia, is hardly a question in many countries.
“I am sorry to say, we are in 2017 and we are still talking about wearing and not wearing,” said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a Palestinian who is the Middle East and North Africa consultant for Equality Now, a global women’s advocacy group.
Still, she said, “we’re hoping that what is going on in Saudi Arabia will be continuing.”
I hope so too.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Notes from the Kakistocracy: Postville Pardon

Some things are impossible by definition: four sided  triangles, married bachelors; others, by laws of nature:faster than light speeds. In this last year, I see now that there is another category of impossibility---call it politically impossible, and in Trump's kakistocracy, it is impossible to be too cynical.

Case in point: Trump just commuted the prison sentence of an Iowa meatpacking executive whose business relied on i) exploiting undocumented workers from Central America, many of whom are languishing in prison right now for immigration related offenses, and ii) fraudulent financial dealings. Did I mention that a) his business was kosher meat packing, and b) he's orthodox jewish---Lubovitch in point of fact, and c) Alan Dershowitz has been his lawyer, the same Dershowitz who has been appearing on tv as if on an infinite loop arguing that presidents can't obstruct justice as a matter of legal impossibility (there's another category of impossibilities for you)?
President Trump on Wednesday commuted the prison sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, whose Iowa meatpacking plant was the target of a huge immigration raid in 2008, and whose 27-year prison sentence angered many Orthodox Jews.
Mr. Rubashkin made national headlines nine years ago after federal agents arrived by helicopter at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, and detained nearly 400 undocumented immigrants, including several children, who were working there. Mr. Rubashkin was the company’s chief executive, and the plant had been the largest kosher meatpacking operation in the country. He was later convicted of bank fraud in federal court.
Many Jewish leaders have rallied behind Mr. Rubashkin, whose treatment they said was unfair, perhaps even anti-Semitic, and whose sentence they considered unduly harsh and out of line with what other white-collar criminals received. Mr. Rubashkin had tried for years to get a reduced sentence, but was repeatedly turned down by the courts.
“The president’s review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community,” the White House statement said.
Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, said on Twitter that the commutation was “a real Hanukkah miracle” and that he was “proud to be a part of a large, bipartisan group” that had pushed for that outcome.
Gag me with a fucking menorah.
Alan M. Dershowitz, an emeritus law professor at Harvard and a noted author, said he had been working on the case for about five years and had personally asked Mr. Trump to consider commutation. Mr. Dershowitz said he had made a similar request to Barack Obama during his presidency, but that he had declined.
“It was just compassion and justice,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “This was a bipartisan thing. It was a nonpartisan thing. And it was the right thing to do.”
But the commutation was not universally cheered. Robert Teig, a former federal prosecutor in Iowa, said that Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence “was what he earned because of his conduct” and that “it’s a sad state when politics are allowed to interfere with the justice system.”
“Really, this is 180 degrees contrary to a tough position on illegal immigration,” said Mr. Teig, who said Mr. Rubashkin had probably been Iowa’s largest employer of undocumented immigrants.
You get that wrinkle? Is it a surprise? Trump's war against immigration isn't targeting businesses that exploit undocumented immigrants (some of his businesses rely on that). It is against the immigrants themselves.

What happened to the plant employees? Do they get any presidential amnesty? Commutations? Pardons? No, that would be one Hanukkah miracle too far.
Around 300 employees of the plant, many of whom were Guatemalan, served prison sentences for identity theft, and several managers and supervisors were convicted of felony charges of harboring illegal immigrants. The immigration-related charges against Mr. Rubashkin were dropped after he was convicted of fraud. Prosecutors in his case said he had fabricated collateral for loans, causing the banks to lose more than $26 million.
Interested in this case? I recommend you start your research with Postville, by Stephen Bloom.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Tales from academic publishing: pseudo-science edition

It looks as if reading putatively scholarly journals can make you stupid, given the high and increasing rate of junk being published, even by 'legit' publishers, as Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky (co-founders of the essential Retraction Watch) show. 
 [e]ven the big, top-tier houses fall victim. Springer and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, two leading publishers, in 2014 retracted more than 120 articles that had appeared in conference proceedings after learning that they had been written not by scientists but by a convincing computer text generator called SCIgen.13 The program—a sort of industrialized version of the Sokal hoax14—allows anyone to create a “scientific paper” by simply providing author names. The resulting text and graphics look like a proper scientific paper, but are gibberish. The fact that any were published means that no one peer reviewed the manuscripts.
What happens when, retrospectively, journals try to prune out the junk?
Although one might assume that journals would hold a strong hand when it comes to ridding themselves of bogus papers, that’s not always the case. In 2011, Elsevier’s Applied Mathematics Letters retracted a paper by Granville Sewell of the University of Texas, El Paso, that questioned the validity of the second law of thermodynamics—a curious position for an article in a mathematics journal, but not so curious for someone like Sewell, who apparently favors intelligent design theories over Darwinian natural selection.15 
The journal’s editor, Ervin Rodin, blamed the appearance of the paper on “hastiness” and acknowledged that the article had no place in the publication. “Please accept our apologies for our erroneous judgement in even considering this paper,” Rodin replied to a critic of the Sewell article, which was eventually retracted.16
The affair ought to have ended there. But Sewell sued and Elsevier, the world’s largest scholarly publisher, blinked. Not only did it pick up the tab for Sewell’s legal fees—a $10,000 hit—but it took the unusual step of apologizing to him (although it did not order the journal to reinstate the article).17 The article was retracted, according to the notice, “because the Editor-in-Chief subsequently concluded that the content was more philosophical than mathematical and, as such, not appropriate for a technical mathematics journal such as Applied Mathematics Letters.”18
Beyond the financial remuneration, the real value of the settlement for Sewell was the ability to say—with a straight face—that the paper was not retracted because it was wrong. Such stamps of approval are, in fact, why some of those who engage in pseudoscience want their work to appear in peer-reviewed journals.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Another thing that probably doesn't exist: IAT validity

For some time now, we all have come to know that we harbor unconscious racist attitudes, which can be measured by the Implicit Attitude Test (IAT). But it turns out that there is little reason to believe that this test is a valid measure of anything, and a lot of reason to disbelieve it. Olivia Goldhill delves into this in Quartz:
There are various psychological tests purporting to measure implicit bias; the IAT is by far the most widely used. When social psychologists Banaji (now at Harvard University) and Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington first made the test public almost 20 years ago, the accompanying press release described it as revealing “the roots of” unconscious prejudice in 90-95% of people. It has been promoted as such in the years since then, most vigorously by “Project Implicit,” a nonprofit based at Harvard University and founded by the creators of the test, along with University of Virginia social psychologist Brian Nosek. Project Implicit’s stated aim is to “educate the public about hidden biases”; some 17 million implicit bias tests had been taken online by October 2015, courtesy of the nonprofit.
There are more than a dozen versions of the IAT, each designed to evaluate unconscious social attitudes towards a particular characteristic, such as weight, age, gender, sexual orientation, or race. They work by measuring how quick you are to associate certain words with certain groups.
The test that has received the most attention, both within and outside psychology, is the black-white race IAT. It asks you to sort various items: Good words (e.g. appealing, excellent, joyful), bad words (e.g. poison, horrible), African-American faces, and European-American faces. In one stage (the order of these stages varies with each test), words flash by onscreen, and you have to identify them as “good” or “bad” as quickly as possible, by pressing “i” on the keyboard for good words and “e” for bad words. In another stage, faces appear, one at a time, and you have to identify them as African American or European American by pressing “i” or “e,” respectively.
The slower you are and the more mistakes you make when asked to categorize African-American faces and good words using the same key, the higher your level of anti-black implicit bias—according to the test.
OK, so far, so good. My guess is most of us have taken a version of this online.But many institutions are using this test to structure anti-impicit-bias training.
HR departments quickly picked up the theory, and implicit-bias workshops are now relied on by companies hoping to create more egalitarian workplaces. Google, Facebook, and other Silicon Valley giants proudly crow about their implicit-bias trainings. The results are underwhelming, at best. Facebook has made just incremental improvements in diversity; Google insists it’s trying but can’t show real results; and Pinterest found that unconscious bias training simply didn’t make a difference. Implicit bias workshops certainly didn’t influence the behavior of then-Google employee James Damore, who complained about the training days and wrote a scientifically ill-informed rant arguing that his female colleagues were biologically less capable of working at the company.
Silicon Valley companies aren’t the only ones working on their “implicit bias” problem. Police forces, The New York Times, countless private companies, US public school districts, and universities such as Harvard have also turned to implicit-bias training to address institutional inequality.
The problems with this? Two, actually. One, there is no evidence that these tests measure anything, and second, the workshops and training don't seem to be effective in reducing bias. Regarding the latter:
The latest scientific research suggests there’s a very good reason why these well-meaning workshops have been so utterly ineffectual. A 2017 meta-analysis that looked at 494 previous studies (currently under peer review and not yet published in a journal) from several researchers, including Nosek, found that reducing implicit bias did not affect behavior. “Our findings suggest that changes in measured implicit bias are possible, but those changes do not necessarily translate into changes in explicit bias or behavior,” wrote the psychologists.
What about the tests themselves?
In recent years, a series of studies have led to significant concerns about the IAT’s reliability and validity. These findings, raising basic scientific questions about what the test actually does, can explain why trainings based on the IAT have failed to change discriminatory behavior.
First, reliability: In psychology, a test has strong “test-retest reliability” when a user can retake it and get a roughly similar score. Perfect reliability is scored as a 1, and defined as when a group of people repeatedly take the same test and their scores are always ranked in the exact same order. It’s a tough ask. A psychological test is considered strong if it has a test-retest reliability of at least 0.7, and preferably over 0.8.
Current studies have found the race IAT to have a test-retest reliability score of 0.44, while the IAT overall is around 0.5 (pdf); even the high end of that range is considered “unacceptable” in psychology. It means users get wildly different scores whenever they retake the test.
Part (though not all) of these variations can be attributed to the “practice effect”: it’s easy to improve your score once you know how the test works. Psychologists typically counter the influence of “practice effects” by giving participants trial sessions before monitoring their scores, but this doesn’t help the IAT. Scores often continue to fluctuate after multiple sessions, and such a persistent practice effect is a serious concern. “For other aspects of psychology if you have a test that’s not replicated at 0.7, 0.8, you just don’t use it,” says Machery.
The second major concern is the IAT’s “validity,” a measure of how effective a test is at gauging what it aims to test. Validity is firmly established by showing that test results can predict related behaviors, and the creators of the IAT have long insisted their test can predict discriminatory behavior. This point is absolutely crucial: after all, if a test claiming to expose unconscious prejudice does not correlate with evidence of prejudice, there’s little reason to take it seriously.
Bottom line: while we might all be infected with unconscious racist bias, the evidence does not support the claim that the IAT measures it, or that workshops structured around the IAT help mitigate it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Truth, Lies and Bullshit: Notes from Trump's Kakistocracy

Trump's kakistocracy does not merely attack honesty and justice, but arms itself with bullshit bombs so powerful that it assaults the very concept of truth. Greg Sargent puts this well:
To date, Trump has made over 1,600 false or misleading claims as president. Routinely, the lies are demonstrably false, often laughably so. But this actually serves his ends. It is impossible to disentangle this from his constant effort to undermine the news media, seen again in today’s NBC tweet. In many cases the attacks on the media are outlandishly ridiculous, dating back to the tone-setting assertion that the media deliberately diminished his inaugural crowd sizes, even though the evidence was decisive to the contrary. Here again, the absurdity is the whole point: In both the volume and outsize defiance of his lies, Trump is asserting the power to declare the irrelevance of verifiable, contradictory facts, and with them, the legitimate institutional role of the free press, which at its best brings us within striking distance of the truth.
Referencing the odious James O'Keefe, he reflects:
Trump is not responsible for O’Keefe’s antics, but they are fellow travelers. Margaret Sullivan, summing up the mindset they are both trying to achieve in their followers, quotes Hannah Arendt: “If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobo.dy believes anything any longer.” Others with similar missions have gravitated to Trump. Brian Beutler points to former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s deep admiration for history’s most successful wielders of the power of disinformation as agitprop.
Trumpers are liars, yes, but more than that, they are bullshitters. As such, as Frankfurt warned a generation ago, they pose more dangers than traditional liars. Liars are careless with truth; bullshitters don't care about it. They don't reject a truth in favor of a convenient falsehood, as liars do; they reject the relevance of truth.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Medcrave spams again

 This just came in from yet another Medcrave fake academic publication.

Dear xxxx,

Hope you are doing well.

I am delighted to inform you that
Arts & Humanities Open Access Journal were planning to release Volume 1 Issue 3 by end of November. Hence we require one article to accomplish the issue.

Moreover i am having few more days in hand to accomplish the task, thus I have chosen some renowned people like you to support us for release the upcoming issue in time. Accordingly support us by submitting your 2 Page Opinion/Mini Review for publication.

Hope you understand my concern and your kind attention in this regard highly esteemed.

Await your optimistic response and apologies in advance for disturbing your busy schedule. 

Best Regards,
Alarice Warren
Arts & Humanities Open Access Journal

PS*: In addition, we are accepting the thesis as eBooks and also videos towards publication in AHOAJ to full fill our journal in all aspects.
In the past few months, I had been spammed by the Medcrave Sociology International Journal, trolling for papers, and even inviting me to join its editorial board (umm---no thanks). Should I feel slighted that the google-invisible Alarice Warren failed to invite me to her editorial board, and is only trolling me for a paper submission ---before the end of November? like two days from now?