Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for December 19th, 2013

Did Illegal Voters in Ohio Steal the 2012 Election?

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David Weigel has a good piece at Slate:

The headline from Fox News is chilling, especially at this moment when most Americans regret putting Barack Obama back in the Oval Office. “Non-citizens caught voting in 2012 presidential election in key swing state,” reports Eric Shawn. What are the gruesome details?

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday that his office found 17 non-citizens illegally cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election — and has referred the case for possible prosecution… Husted also found that 274 non-citizens remain on the voting rolls. President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Ohio by just 2 percentage points in November 2012.

Did you catch that, how Shawn pivoted from the number of total votes to the percentage of votes? Why would he do that? Without reading his mind, I’d guess it’s because the actual Ohio margin between Obama and Romney last year was 166,272 votes, and Shawn wants to keep his readers as ignorant as possible. Seventeen votes represents 0.0003 percent of the total of ballots cast for either Obama or Romney in the state, and 0.01 percent of the margin.

Reporters who are brighter and less dishonest than Shawn have come away from the Husted data with a different take. There was, according to Husted, no plot to steal votes or fake votes in the 2012 election. The noncitizens who voted had driver’s licenses, so basic voter ID laws wouldn’t have stopped them. That’s not surprising, given that Husted’s last update in the voter fraud investigation, in May, revealed a total of 135 possible fraud cases.

It’s been a bad week for investigations like these. In Iowa, Jason Noble reported that a two-year fraud investigation had come up with 16 cases worth looking into. That was proportionately lower than Husted’s original finding in Ohio, and both investigations found many, many fewer suspicious ballots than there are ballots spoiled for some reason in any election. One count of Ohio’s ballots in 2004 found that 239,127 were spoiled somehow—missing chads, errant ink marks, etc.

The situation’s improved since then, but there remain many, many more votes lost because of flawed ballots or attritition from long lines than votes canceled out out by the confirmed ballot of a noncitizen. And a great deal of legal work has come up dry in the hunt for the mythical “buses of illegal voters” being spirited in from cities or campuses to stuff the polls.

But if you just read Fox, you’ve learned that the voter fraud problem is very real.

The point of voter ID laws is not, of course, to catch vote fraud—what vote fraud there is (and there’s almost none) is more easily done through mail-in ballots, not showing up physically at the polling place. The point of voter ID laws is to prevent likely Democratic voters from being able to vote.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2013 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Election

93 percent of hospital executives think Obamacare will make health care better

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Very interesting report in the Washington Post by Ezra Klein.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2013 at 1:10 pm

Fantastic pictures from the natural world

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Amazing stuff in this post, which I found via my friend Mr. Beetner. From that link, just one (of many) great images and findings: a brief video showing the full moon rising in real time:

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2013 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

The effects of marijuana use on teens

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Certainly there’s been a lot of Reefer-Madness propaganda coming out about the deleterious effects of marijuana on teens, but what is the evidence? Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, writes in High Times:

Is teen pot use really associated with long-lasting, adverse effects on memory and an increased risk of schizophrenia? The conventional media says so. But a closer examination of the scientific literature reveals that it is the mainstream media, not cannabis consumers, who are suffering from memory loss.

Marijuana Use and Cognition
Claims that marijuana consumption causes permanent damage to the brain and cognitive skills are hardly new. In fact, such claims have remained pervasive since the very inception of cannabis prohibition. Yet there exists little scientific data to support these persistent allegations

For example, a comprehensive review published in 2003 in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society assessed effects of cannabis on neurocognitive performance in nearly a dozen published studies, involving over 1,000 test subjects. Authors reported: “In conclusion, our meta-analysis of studies that have attempted to address the question of longer term neurocognitive disturbance in moderate and heavy cannabis users has failed to demonstrate a substantial, systematic, and detrimental effect of cannabis use on neuropsychological performance. It was surprising to find such few and small effects given that most of the potential biases inherent in our analyses actually increased the likelihood of finding a cannabis effect.”

A 2012 meta-analysis of 33 separate studies by researchers at the University of Central Florida Department of Psychology similarly reported that moderate to heavy marijuana consumers failed to experience “enduring negative effects” associated with cognition. Writing in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, investigators reported that cannabis chronic consumption may be associated with “small” effects on neurocognitive abilities for limited periods of time lasting beyond the immediate hours of intoxication, but they found “no evidence of lasting effects on cognitive performance due to cannabis use” in subjects whose abstention period was at least 25 days. Authors concluded: “As hypothesized, the meta-analysis conducted on studies evaluating users after at least 25 days of abstention found no residual effects on cognitive performance… These results fail to support the idea that heavy cannabis use may result in long-term, persistent effects on neuropsychological functioning.”

Marijuana Use and Schizophrenia
The mainstream media has long been fixated on the allegation that smoking pot will make you crazy. (For perspective, read my 2011 HIGH TIMES feature, “Don’t Blame the Reefer,”) So it was hardly unusual to see mainstream news outlets this week run with headlines implying that marijuana use may increase one’s risk of schizophrenia. Yet, scientific research establishing such a link remains tenuous. In fact, in the days prior to this week’s media frenzy, researchers at Harvard Universityreleased a study soundly rebutting this allegation.

Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Schizophrenia Research, investigators compared the family histories of 108 schizophrenia patients and 171 individuals without schizophrenia to assess whether youth cannabis consumption was an independent factor in developing the disorder. Researchers reported that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2013 at 12:42 pm

Maybe those cancelled healthcare policies were cheap for a reason

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Junk often costs less than quality. Tony Pugh has an interesting piece for McClatchy:

April Capil has mixed feelings about the national outcry over canceled health insurance policies.

Five years free of the stage III breast cancer that nearly claimed her life, the Boulder, Colo., resident is once again healthy, but she’s still struggling to put her life back together.

Like millions of Americans, Capil thought she had solid individual health insurance. Then she got sick and found that her coverage was woefully inadequate.

The financial problems that followed would aggravate Capil’s health struggles, force her into bankruptcy and trigger a fraud lawsuit over $230,000 in unpaid medical bills against HealthMarkets Inc., the parent company of her former insurer.

The litigation is nothing new for HealthMarkets. The North Richland Hills, Texas, insurer, formerly known as UICI, has a long history of battles with state regulators trying to root out “junk insurance” in the individual market. But numerous sanctions and a host of consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act have put a financial squeeze on the company and forced it to change its business model.

Beginning in January 2014, the health care law prohibits the kind of limitations, exclusions and benefit spending caps that made Capil’s coverage so problematic.

But after falsely promising that Americans could keep their health insurance if they liked it, President Barack Obama bowed to political pressure in November and OK’d a one-year extension on 2013 individual policies – even those facing cancellation next year because they don’t meet the health law’s new minimum standards.

Now Capil, a software project manager, wonders how many Americans will use the president’s canceled-policy “fix” to unwittingly renew another year of “junk insurance” like she used to have.

“It’s sad that there are people who have this insurance who don’t know that they’re going to end up like me if they ever get sick,” she said. “I feel like people are upset that they’re losing these plans and they’re upset because they think their plans are comprehensive. But they aren’t. These insurance companies have been selling Americans coverage that will bankrupt them if they ever have a serious illness.”

It’s a concern others share as well.

“As those policies are grandfathered in, people have to be aware they may be exposed,” said Mark Rukavina, a health care consultant in Massachusetts and an expert on medical debt. “It’s something to think about as these people stay with these plans that seem like a good deal.”

Capil thought her plan was a good deal. She said her insurance agent told her it was full, comprehensive coverage and if she ever got cancer, Capil would never pay more than a deductible or co-insurance.

What she got instead was a “limited benefit plan,” which is “commonly seen as inadequate because it tends to pay for routine care and leave you without coverage fairly soon if something major costing tens of thousands of dollars kicks in,” said Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow for health policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

Donna Ledbetter, HealthMarkets’ director of external communications, declined an interview request for this story, citing Capil’s pending lawsuit. She also declined to answer questions not involving that litigation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2013 at 12:33 pm

Trade-offs in pushing the replication of scientific experiments

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A very interesting post by Andrew Gelman:

Raghuveer Parthasarathy pointed me to an article in Nature by Mina Bissell, who writes, “The push to replicate findings could shelve promising research and unfairly damage the reputations of careful, meticulous scientists.”

I can see where she’s coming from: if you work hard day after day in the lab, it’s gotta be a bit frustrating to find all your work questioned, for the frauds of the Dr. Anil Pottis and Diederik Stapels to be treated as a reason for everyone else’s work to be considered guilty until proven innocent.

That said, I pretty much disagree with Bissell’s article, and really the best thing I can say about it is that I think it’s a good sign that the push for replication is so strong that now there’s a backlash against it. Traditionally, leading scientists have been able to simply ignore the push for replication. If they are feeling that the replication movement is strong enough that they need to fight it, that to me is good news.

I’ll explain a bit in the context of Bissell’s article. She writes:

Articles in both the scientific and popular press have addressed how frequently biologists are unable to repeat each other’s experiments, even when using the same materials and methods. But I am concerned about the latest drive by some in biology to have results replicated by an independent, self-appointed entity that will charge for the service. The US National Institutes of Health is considering making validation routine for certain types of experiments, including the basic science that leads to clinical trials.

But, as she points out, such replications will be costly. As she puts it:

Isn’t reproducibility the bedrock of the scientific process? Yes, up to a point. But it is sometimes much easier not to replicate than to replicate studies, because the techniques and reagents are sophisticated, time-consuming and difficult to master. In the past ten years, every paper published on which I have been senior author has taken between four and six years to complete, and at times much longer. People in my lab often need months — if not a year — to replicate some of the experiments we have done . . .

So, yes, if we require everything to be replicate, it will reduce the resources that are available to do new research.

Replication is always a concern when dealing with systems as complex as the three-dimensional cell cultures routinely used in my lab. But with time and careful consideration of experimental conditions, they [Bissell’s students and postdocs], and others, have always managed to replicate our previous data.

If all science were like Bissell’s, I guess we’d be in great shape. In fact, given her track record, perhaps we could some sort of lifetime seal of approval to the work in her lab, and agree in the future to trust all her data without need for replication.

The problem is that there appear to be labs without 100% successful replication rates. Not just fraud (although, yes, that does exist); and not just people cutting corners, for example, improperly excluding cases in a clinical trial (although, yes, that does exist); and not just selection bias and measurement error (although, yes, these do exist too); but just the usual story of results that don’t hold up under replication, perhaps because the published results just happened to stand out in an initial dataset (as Vul et al. pointed out in the context of imaging studies in neuroscience) or because certain effects are variable and appear in some settings and not in others. Lots of reasons. In any case, replications do fail, even with time and careful consideration of experimental conditions. In that sense, Bissell indeed has to pay for the sins of others, but I think that’s inevitable: in any system that is less than 100% perfect, some effort ends up being spent on checking things that, retrospectively, turned out to be ok.

Later on, Bissell writes: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2013 at 12:22 pm

Posted in Science

The 46 recommendations regarding the NSA

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Amy Davidson has an excellent examination in the New Yorker of the 46 recommendations from the panel that Obama named. It begins:

President Obama’s advisory committee on the N.S.A.’s practices has given him a report, released by the White House on Wednesday, that is three hundred pages longand includes forty recommendations. Some of the recommendations include specific steps to be taken or suggest changes to structures and procedures—that there be a public-interest advocate to “represent privacy and civil liberties interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court”; that phone records be held by phone companies and not the government; that tech companies not leave vulnerabilities in their products that allow the N.S.A. slip in—but most of all it argues for a change in thinking. The thirty-page executive summary might be further condensed to a few sentences: Don’t do things just because you can. Tell people what the rules are. Remember that “security” doesn’t just mean chasing terrorists—it “refers to a quite different and equally fundamental value,” spelled out in the Fourth Amendment: “The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Stop shutting down debate by muttering about a “balance” that needs to be struck between security and freedom—they are not on opposite sides of the scale. Start thinking about privacy.

It is sobering to see how many of the recommendations include writing into law requirements that the N.S.A. not use certain of its powers unless it has a good reason to do so and does so prudently. The agency has to be told, apparently, that it can only invoke Section 215 of the Patriot Act (the so-called business-records provision) or issue national-security letters to e-mail providers asking for information about their customers if “the order is reasonable in focus, scope, and breadth”—and it has to be told that with the force of law. This appears to be an acknowledgement that, so far, the use of these provisions has not been reasonable.

The report doesn’t propose ending the N.S.A.’s programs so much as making it structurally possible to talk about them. Recommendation No. 7, for example, is that the public and Congress be informed about the “authorities” backing up various data-collection programs “to the greatest extent possible, and consistent with the need to protect classified information.” In other words, they need to be told why the N.S.A. thinks that what it’s doing is legal. One of the extraordinary things we’ve learned in the past few months is that this is all too necessary, since the government has read laws in ways that disagree not only with their public interpretations but with the English language. We don’t need to know that a particular person is being spied upon, but we need to know when it’s legal to spy.

Similarly, the report recommends that telephone and technology companies be allowed to tell their customers, in a general, periodic way, what kinds of information the government is asking for. If you want a sense of the violation, and feeling of isolation, that can occur when this is not the case, read recommendation No. 8: “Nondisclosure orders should never be issued in a manner that prevents the recipient of the order from seeking legal counsel in order to challenge the order’s legality.” (Or read the story of Lavabit.) And it reflects dissatisfaction with the transparency of the FISA court.

There is a lot folded into recommendation No. 6, which . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2013 at 11:40 am

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