Friday, February 27, 2009

This is What Incompassionate Conservatism Looks Like

We do things continually to remove the consequences of poor behavior, unacceptable behavior, quite frankly. I'm not convinced that part of the role of government should be to protect individuals from the negative consequences of their actions.

This is a quote from Colorado state senator Dave Schultheis (R-Colorado Springs). What might he be talking about? Food stamps? Welfare? Obama's plan to aid struggling homeowners who were "irresponsible?" No, the honorable Sen. Schultheis is arguing against a law requiring pregnant women to be tested for HIV so that if they are infected their babies can be treated to prevent the virus's transfer. Leaving aside the obvious lack of any knowledge about HIV transmission or concern for basic principles of public health to avoid disease epidemics, he actually wants to endanger the lives of children to make a (unsubstantiated and wildly off-base) point to their mothers! That's solid "pro-life" public policy if ever I've seen one. This comes two days after a different Colorado State senator, Scott Renfroe (R-Greeley), argued (on the floor of the state senate) that

Leviticus 20:13 says, 'If there is a man who lies with a male as though to lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act, and they shall surely be put to death. ... ' We are taking sins and making them to be legally OK, and that is wrong. ... And I'm not saying that this is the only sin that's out there. Obviously, we have sin, we have murder, we have all sorts of sin. We have adultery ... and we would never think to make murder legal.

This outburst of free speech (this is what Sen. Renfoe said in his defense - as if he has no responsibility that comes with that free speech being, I don't know, a state senator) led one Republican member of the Colorado House to say something that I finally agreed with:

"What are they doing over there?"

Good question.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Good News

Some of you who read this blog might remember that I made two resolutions for the new year. I have made significant progress on one — I'll let you guess which one. Anyway, I have failed to post here for the past month because I have been traveling (as I mentioned) to several cities across the country. What I didn't mention is that several of those trips were for post-doc interviews bacause I didn't want to jinx anything before I started the interview process.

I found out last week that I received an offer! I am super excited and will be starting the position in the Fall. Now, all I have to do is finish this pesky dissertation.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

I Just Don't Fit In

Somewhere between 23 and 30, most lefty, urban, middle-class white people have to decide whether they are going to be: 1) aging bourgeois hippies or 2) aging bourgeois yuppies. (There may be a third option - tell me.) Yesterday I decided to sample option (1) by buying Tom's of Maine deodorant. It smelled nice. The label said it had "hops" in it to fight smelly bacteria.

I put it on this morning. Usually I like the nice, not-at-all sticky feeling that I feel when I put reg'lar deodorant on. It's as though fairies have sprinkled little flakes of teflon on my armpits. This experience, unfortunately, was nothing like that. It was almost as though I hadn't put anything on at all. Or rather, like I had coated my armpits with a layer of gym sweat before going to work.

Just now I changed and took a whiff. I know it's 9:30 pm, so way past the expiration probably, but damn. Not nice.

Next time I see anything with "hops" in it, it better be a nice cold beer. Then I can rub that all over my armpits.

And seriously, someone please, please tell me if there's an option three. One and two are not working out so hot.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Buck Stops Here (valid 1995-2001 only)

Princeton Health economist Uwe Reinhardt posted a scathing piece on CEO pay. Shorter (incredibly reductive) version: Finance demi-god and former GE helmer Jack Welch rode the economic stock bubble and took credit for more success than he created himself, whereas current CEO Jeff Immelt has led GE to perform nearly identically to the stock market - just as Welch did in his most successful years - but blames the market. I don't pretend to have anymore to say about this other than - 1) play time is over, 2) take the credit, take the blame, 3) [insert another trite admonishing idiom here].

Friday, February 6, 2009

University of Hypocrisy

Today, Mark Blumenthal reports that the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers (AAPOR) censured Dr. Gilbert Burnham who is one of the authors of the Iraq War casualty paper.

Burnham was censured for not disclosing all of the study materials that were requested by AAPOR in their investigation, although it seems like he turned over just about everything. One of the main pieces that AAPOR claims was not turned over (though the allegations of what Burnham actually failed to be turned over is nowhere in the AAPOR press release) is the question wording. But, it seems (as Blumenthal notes), he did release his question template. Granted, it is not a survey instrument; but, I wonder if AAPOR has an Arabic translator to read the actual survey instrument -- and if so, how many members of AAPOR would be able to understand it. In response to the press release, at least two people (Blumenthal and Science blogger Tim Lambert) asked AAPOR to clarify what, exactly, Burnham failed to release to AAPOR. The answer

We do not provide public reports of the investigations but if there are other specific questions that I could answer, I would be happy to try to do so.

Basically, Burnham gets censured for not turning over all of his materials for review by an organization (of which, it should be noted, Burnham is not even a member) that cannot be bothered to turn over their own evidence used in the report. I have a lot of respect for AAPOR, and think that they did some great things during the election—aided tremendously by Mark Blumenthal—to make sure that the public and journalists knew how to interpret polls, but this is just absurd.[1] What's good for the goose...

I am all for more transparency in data. I think that more needs to be done in social science (and public health) to deal with replication and increasing access to data[2]; however, for an organization to claim that they can censure a non-member for ethical violations and then turn around and violate the same spirit of their rule strikes me as something members of AAPOR (I am not one) should address.

[1] As a side note, I should mention that there are some problems with the Iraq studies. Their response rate is very high, particularly since they only went to sampled houses on a single day (although this National Journal summary quotes famous soc blogger Kieran Healy noting that this response rate is not unusual for Iraq) and, because of their sample size, the confidence intervals are very, very large. The appropriate venue for such debates, however, is in the academic press to challenge the validity of the findings, not for some organization to nitpick on violations of ethics of non-members.

[2]In fact, a recent special issue of Sociological Methods & Research pertains to this very issue. I highly recommend the issue of the journal for many of the interesting points that are raised.