Thursday, August 27, 2015

Another reason not to major in psychology

 Oh dear.
 A University of Virginia psychologist decided in 2011 to find out whether such suspect science was a widespread problem. He and his team recruited more than 250 researchers, identified 100 studies that had each been published in one of three leading journals in 2008, and rigorously redid the experiments in close collaboration with the original authors.
 The results are now in: More than 60 of the studies did not hold up. They include findings that were circulated at the time — that a strong skepticism of free will increases the likelihood of cheating; that physical distances could subconsciously influence people’s sense of personal closeness; that attached women are more attracted to single men when highly fertile than when less so.
The new analysis, called the Reproducibility Project and posted Thursday by Science, found no evidence of fraud or that any original study was definitively false. Rather, it concluded that the evidence for most published findings was not nearly as strong as originally claimed.
“Less than half — even lower than I thought,” said Dr. John Ioannidis, a director of Stanford University’s Meta-Research Innovation Center, who once estimated that about half of published results across medicine were inflated or wrong. Dr. Ioannidis said the problem was hardly confined to psychology and could be worse in other fields, including cell biology, economics, neuroscience, clinical medicine, and animal research.
Among the studies that did not hold up was one on free will. It found that participants who read a passage arguing that their behavior is predetermined were more likely than those who had not read the passage to cheat on a subsequent test. Another was on the effect of physical distance on emotional distance. Volunteers asked to plot two points that were far apart on graph paper later reported weaker emotional attachment to family members, compared with subjects who had graphed points close together. A third was on mate preference. Attached women were more likely to rate the attractiveness of single men highly when they were highly fertile, compared with when they were less so. In the reproduced studies, researchers found weaker effects for all three experiments.
Cue the replication skeptics.
“There’s no doubt replication is important, but it’s often just an attack, a vigilante exercise,” said Norbert Schwarz, a professor of psychology at the University of Southern California. Dr. Schwarz, who was not involved in any of the 100 studies that were re-examined, said that the replication studies themselves were virtually never vetted for errors in design or analysis.
Dr. Nosek’s team addressed this complaint in part by requiring the researchers attempting to replicate the findings to collaborate closely with the original authors, asking for guidance on design, methodology and materials. Most of the replications also included more subjects than the original studies, giving them more statistical power.
The numbers told a mixed story. Strictly on the basis of significance — a statistical measure of how likely it is that a result did not occur by chance — 35 of the studies held up, and 62 did not. (Three were excluded because their significance was not clear.) The overall “effect size,” a measure of the strength of a finding, dropped by about half across all of the studies. Yet very few of the redone studies contradicted the original ones; their results were simply weaker.
“We think of these findings as two data points, not in terms of true or false,” Dr. Nosek said.
The research team also measured whether the prestige of the original research group, rated by measures of expertise and academic affiliation, had any effect on the likelihood that its work stood up. It did not. The only factor that did was the strength of the original effect — that is, the most robust findings tended to remain easily detectable, if not necessarily as strong.
 And psychologists make fun of philosophers because we just engage in thought experiments. Now it is more arguable than ever that the latter yield results as least as reliable, for less money and without the need for an IRB.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Paint it pink

Oh, this is perfect. 
If you happen to be a woman interested in taking Addyi, the first FDA-approved drug intended to treat low libido in women, your doctor will first tell you this: You absolutely cannot drink — at all — as long as you’re taking the drug, because alcohol has been shown to exacerbate its side effects, including fainting, dizziness, and low blood pressure. When the drug hits the market in mid-October, it will come with a black box underlining the importance of abstaining from alcohol while taking the medication.
But here’s the thing. Nobody actually even knows what would happen if a woman taking Addyi were to cheat and have, say, a glass of wine with dinner — because the research on the effects of drinking while on the medication was done almost entirely on men. The alcohol-safety study included 23 men, and a grand total of two women. [my bolding]
Let's take a drug with questionable efficacy (little better than a placebo), and a long list of ill effects, and test its interaction with alcohol, the most worrisome of these effects, on people it is not marketed to. But no worries, because, you know, pink. 

Stubblefield trial opens

It is opening day for the Anna Stubblefield trial, with jury selection first on the agenda.
In the coming weeks, a man known as D.J., who suffers from cerebral palsy and other ailments, will enter a Newark courtroom while being escorted by his mother.
To Essex County prosecutors, D.J. is the severely mentally disabled victim of repeated sexual assaults by Rutgers-Newark professor Anna Stubblefield. To Stubblefield, D.J. consented to their sexual trysts through a controversial communication method, known as "facilitated communication."
Jurors will be asked to pick between those two scenarios when Stubblefield's trial gets under way early next month on two counts of aggravated sexual assault. Jury selection is scheduled to begin today before Superior Court Judge Siobhan Teare.
Stubblefield, 45, of West Orange, is accused of sexually assaulting D.J. in her Newark office in 2011. After the allegations surfaced, Rutgers placed Stubblefield on administrative leave without pay and stripped her of the title of chairwoman of the philosophy department.
The case rests largely on whether D.J. consented to the sexual activity and the allegations that Stubblefield knew or should have known D.J. was unable to consent.
The state's experts have determined D.J. does not have the ability to consent. Stubblefield's attorney, James Patton, has said D.J. may be physically impaired, but he has the mental capacity to understand questions and give his consent.
The trial is expected to include testimony from D.J.'s family and various experts, in addition to Stubblefield's ex-husband, Roger Stubblefield.
After learning his wife lied to him about taking their marriage counseling seriously, Roger Stubblefield gave prosecutors a document his wife had written at her attorney's direction. The document allegedly details her sexual relationship with D.J. The couple later divorced.
Anna Stubblefield had sought to keep that document out of the trial, saying it was confidential material within the attorney-client relationship. But in ruling the document was admissible, Teare said in January that Stubblefield waived the attorney-client privilege when she gave the document to her ex-husband.
D.J. is not expected to testify, but he will be escorted into the courtroom by his mother during the trial to be presented as a "demonstrative exhibit."

I continue to hope that Stubblefield and the prosecutor work out a plea deal. This case is a mess: love lust, good intentions, bad science, worse philosophy, and pain all around.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Good news from Ferguson

So far as I can tell, this is a Very Good Step.

A new municipal judge in Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday ordered sweeping changes to court practices in response to a scathing Justice Department report following the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown a year ago.
Municipal Court Judge Donald McCullin, appointed in June, ordered that all arrest warrants issued in the city before Dec. 31, 2014 be withdrawn.
Defendants will receive new court dates along with options for disposing of their cases, such as payment plans or community service. Fines may be commuted for indigent people.
 McCullin, who is black, [was this necessary, Reuters?] ordered instead that if an arrest warrant is issued for a minor traffic violation, the defendant will not be incarcerated, but will be released on their own recognizance and given another court date, the city said.
"These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the Court... and giving many residents a fresh start," said McCullin in a statement.
He added that many people who have had drivers licenses suspended will be able to obtain them and start driving again. In the past, the city's director of revenue would suspend a defendant's driver's license solely for failing to appear in court or failing to pay a fine.
McCullin replaced Judge Ronald Brockmeyer who resigned after being criticized in the Justice Department report.[bracketed comment mine]
 Recall that the people of Ferguson languish under a criminalization of everything (done while being black) regime which levies fines, layered with penalties and topped off by jail in order to fund the tiny city's operations, including that of the police and local courts. In effect, people were being arrested and fined in order to pay for the police to arrest them. And in this, Ferguson is hardly an outlier.

Oh Canada: #Hairgate edition

Didjaknow? Canada's having a federal election, and Margaret Atwood is in the thick of it.
he acclaimed author penned a satirical column lambasting Canada’s conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s hair, which has become an unusual talking point in the lead up to the general election in October.
Hours after publication on the National Post website, the piece was removed. Senior newspaper staff later said “the necessary fact checking had not been completed”.
(The National Post was founded by famed former Canadian convicted fraudster Conrad Black.)
 “Um, did I just get censored? For my flighty little caper on Hair?” Atwood tweeted after #Hairgate began trending on Twitter.
Throughout the election campaign, the Canadian Conservative party has attacked Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as inexperienced and lacking in policy focus. It has also mocked him simply for having “nice hair”. Trudeau has hit back through advertising, arguing Harper is struggling to talk about anything else.
Atwood’s piece argued the entire debate had trivialised the election. “Hair, an election issue? Really?” she wrote, before going on to poke fun at Harper.
“Of the three national male leaders, which one travels with a personal grooming assistant – lavishly paid for in whole or in part by you, gentle taxpayer – so that none of his hairs will ever be out of place … Hint: Initials are SH.”
The column was eventually republished by the National Post, with three sentences, which made reference to Harper’s political donations and a recent travel expenses scandal, removed.
The edits appeared to outrage the author even more – Atwood said the piece had been submitted nine days before it was published.
“Which of my facts were Wrong? What are the alternate facts, presumably Right? Cite sources please,” she tweeted at the National Post on Saturday

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Macedonian madness

Americans are so obsessed with make-believe anchor babies that we fail to notice the massive migration of people fleeing endless war in Syria and elsewhere, people who are met, not with warm soup and brass bands to welcome them, but police and soldiers pushing them back, as in Macedonia.

Thousands of migrants stormed across Macedonia's border on Saturday, overwhelming security forces who threw stun grenades and lashed out with batons before apparently abandoning a bid to stem their flow through the Balkans to western Europe.
Some had spent days in the open with little or no food or water after Macedonia on Thursday declared a state of emergency and sealed its borders to migrants, many of them refugees from war in Syria and other conflicts in the Middle East.
But by nightfall on Saturday, thousands had crossed the frontier, milling around the border town of Gevgelija where busses had converged from all over the country and trains left in quick succession to take them north to the next leg of their journey through Serbia.
Ah, Europe, home of enlightenment.
"In this Europe, animals are sleeping in beds and we sleep in the rain," said 23-year-old Syrian woman Fatima Hamido on entering Macedonia. "I was freezing for four days in the rain, with nothing to eat."

Thursday, August 20, 2015

...this just in...

In case you are tired of worrying about Trump, ISIS, and anchor babies, try this on for size. North Korea is threatening war, giving South Korea an ultimatum.
North Korea Thursday threatened to escalate a propaganda war against South Korea into a military one, with Kim Jong Un’s regime telling Seoul it has until Saturday evening to remove speakers blasting anti-Pyongyang messages across the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries.
The warning came shortly after a rare exchange of heavy artillery fire between the countries, rattling nerves in the South during a time of heightened tensions.
“The North side threatened to start military action if the South does not stop its anti-Pyongyang psychological broadcasting and remove all the facilities in 48 hours from 5 p.m.,” South Korea's ministry of national defense said, quoting a letter from the North’s general staff department, according to Yonhap News Agency.
And there's more:

North Korea's leader has ordered its military to be fully ready for war, South Korea's Yonhap news agency says.
Kim Jong-un declared a "quasi-state of war" after convening an emergency meeting of the Communist country's military leaders, Yonhap reported North Korean TV as saying.
Thank you and enjoy the rest of your summer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Votes for women!

Jezebel reminds us that 95 years ago today, the 36th state ratified the 19th amendment, thus adding women's right to vote to the US constitution.

Now, 95 years, later, the right to vote is being curtailed for far too many women and men. And in contemporary politics, those standing for elections are answerable to the deep pocketed billionaires who have bought their services, not those who bother to vote. Still, let's think warm thoughts about the ideal of universal suffrage (not achieved until almost half a century later, and then, a few decades after that, lost) and the intransigent courage that drove three generations of suffragists in its pursuit.*

* Many suffragists were only proposing white women's right to vote and were perfectly comfortable in denying the franchise to women of color and their brothers, husbands and sons.