Later On

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

Archive for November 10th, 2017

Good movie on Netflix: “The Equalizer”

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Good cast, good production, good story. Worth seeing, IMO. Not a dancing teacups sort of story.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Movies & TV

Science is broken

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A disturbing article in Aeon by Siddhartha Roy and Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech:

The rise of the 20th-century research university in the United States stands as one of the great achievements of human civilisation – it helped to establish science as a public good, and advanced the human condition through training, discovery and innovation. But if the practice of science should ever undermine the trust and symbiotic relationship with society that allowed both to flourish, our ability to solve critical problems facing humankind and civilisation itself will be at risk. We recently explored how increasingly perverse incentives and the academic business modelmight be adversely affecting scientific practices, and by extension, whether a loss of support for science in some segments of society might be more attributable to what science is doing to itself, as opposed what others are doing to science.

We argue that over the past half-century, the incentives and reward structure of science have changed, creating a hypercompetition among academic researchers. Part-time and adjunct faculty now make up 76 per cent of the academic labour force, allowing universities to operate more like businesses, making tenure-track positions much more rare and desirable. Increased reliance on emerging quantitative performance metrics that value numbers of papers, citations and research dollars raised has decreased the emphasis on socially relevant outcomes and quality. There is also concern that these pressures could encourage unethical conduct by scientists and the next generation of STEM scholars who persist in this hypercompetitive environment. We believe that reform is needed to bring balance back to the academy and to the social contract between science and society, to ensure the future role of science as a public good.

The pursuit of tenure traditionally influences almost all decisions, priorities and activities of young faculty at research universities. Recent changes in academia, however, including increased emphasis on quantitative performance metrics, harsh competition for static or reduced federal funding, and implementation of private business models at public and private universities are producing undesirable outcomes and unintended consequences (see Table 1 below).

Quantitative metrics are increasingly dominating decision-making in faculty hiring, promotion and tenure, awards and funding, and creating an intense focus on publication count, citations, combined citation-publication counts (h-index being the most popular), journal impact factors, total research dollars and total patents. All these measures are subject to manipulation as per Goodhart’s law, which states: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. The quantitative metrics can therefore be misleading and ultimately counterproductive to assessing scientific research.

The increased reliance on quantitative metrics might create inequities and outcomes worse than the systems they replaced. Specifically, if rewards are disproportionally given to individuals manipulating the metrics, well-known problems of the old subjective paradigms (eg, old-boys’ networks) appear simple and solvable. Most scientists think that the damage owing to metrics is already apparent. In fact, 71 per cent of researchers believe that it is possible to ‘game’ or ‘cheat’ their way into better evaluations at their institutions.

This manipulation of the evaluative metrics has been documented. Recent exposés have revealed schemes by journals to manipulate impact factors, use of p-hacking by researchers to mine for statistically significant and publishable results, rigging of the peer-review process itself and over-citation practices. The computer scientist Cyril Labbé at the Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble even created Ike Antkare, a fictional character, who, by virtue of publishing 102 computer-generated fake papers, achieved a stellar h-index of 94 on Google Scholar, surpassing that of Albert Einstein. Blogs describing how to inflate your h-index without committing outright fraud are, in fact, just a Google search away.

Since the Second World War, scientific output as measured by cited work has doubled every nine years. How much of the growth in this knowledge industry is, in essence, illusory and a natural consequence of Goodhart’s law? It is a real question.

Consider the role of quality versus quantity maximising true scientific progress. If a process is overcommitted to quality over quantity, accepted practices might require triple- or quadruple-blinded studies, mandatory replication of results by independent parties, and peer review of all data and statistics before publication. Such a system would produce very few results due to over-caution, and would waste scarce research funding. At another extreme, an overemphasis on quantity would produce numerous substandard papers with lax experimental design, little or no replication, scant quality control and substandard peer-review (see Figure 1 below). As measured by the quantitative metrics, apparent scientific progress would explode, but too many results would be erroneous, and consumers of research would be mired in wondering what was valid or invalid. Such a system merely creates an illusion of scientific progress. Obviously, a balance between quantity and quality is desirable.

It is hypothetically possible that in an environment without quantitative metrics and fewer perverse incentives emphasising quantity over quality, practices of scholarly evaluation (enforced by peer review) would evolve to be near to an optimum level of productivity. But we suspect that the existing perverse-incentive environment is pushing researchers to overemphasise quantity in order to compete, leaving true scientific productivity at less than optimal levels. If the hypercompetitive environment also increased the likelihood and frequency of unethical behaviour, the entire scientific enterprise would be eventually cast into doubt. While there is virtually no research exploring the precise impact of perverse incentives on scientific productivity, most in the academic world would acknowledge a shift towards quantity in research. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 7:03 pm

Posted in Business, Education, Science

A Facebook post by Ellen Page well worth reading

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Here it is:

Ellen Page

“You should fuck her to make her realize she’s gay.” He said this about me during a cast and crew “meet and greet” before we began filming, X Men: The Last Stand. I was eighteen years old. He looked at a woman standing next to me, ten years my senior, pointed to me and said: “You should fuck her to make her realize she’s gay.” He was the film’s director, Brett Ratner.

I was a young adult who had not yet come out to myself. I knew I was gay, but did not know, so to speak. I felt violated when this happened. I looked down at my feet, didn’t say a word and watched as no one else did either. This man, who had cast me in the film, started our months of filming at a work event with this horrific, unchallenged plea. He “outed” me with no regard for my well-being, an act we all recognize as homophobic. I proceeded to watch him on set say degrading things to women. I remember a woman walking by the monitor as he made a comment about her “flappy pussy”.

We are all entitled to come into an awareness of our sexual orientation privately and on our own terms. I was young and although already a working actor for so long I had in many ways been insulated, growing up on film sets instead of surrounded by my peers. This public, aggressive outing left me with long standing feelings of shame, one of the most destructive results of homophobia. Making someone feel ashamed of who they are is a cruel manipulation, designed to oppress and repress. I was robbed of more than autonomy over my ability to define myself. Ratner’s comment replayed in my mind many times over the years as I encountered homophobia and coped with feelings of reluctance and uncertainty about the industry and my future in it. The difference is that I can now assert myself and use my voice to to fight back against the insidious queer and transphobic attitude in Hollywood and beyond. Hopefully having the position I have, I can help people who may be struggling to be accepted and allowed to be who they are –to thrive. Vulnerable young people without my advantages are so often diminished and made to feel they have no options for living the life they were meant to joyously lead.

I got into an altercation with Brett at a certain point. He was pressuring me, in front of many people, to don a t-shirt with “Team Ratner” on it. I said no and he insisted. I responded, “I am not on your team.” Later in the day, producers of the film came to my trailer to say that I “couldn’t talk like that to him.” I was being reprimanded, yet he was not being punished nor fired for the blatantly homophobic and abusive behavior we all witnessed. I was an actor that no one knew. I was eighteen and had no tools to know how to handle the situation.

I have been a professional actor since the age of ten. I’ve had the good fortune to work with many honorable and respectful collaborators both behind and in front of the camera. But the behavior I’m describing is ubiquitous. They (abusers), want you to feel small, to make you insecure, to make you feel like you are indebted to them, or that your actions are to blame for their unwelcome advances.

When I was sixteen a director took me to dinner (a professional obligation and a very common one). He fondled my leg under the table and said, “You have to make the move, I can’t.” I did not make the move and I was fortunate to get away from that situation. It was a painful realization: my safety was not guaranteed at work. An adult authority figure for whom I worked intended to exploit me, physically. I was sexually assaulted by a grip months later. I was asked by a director to sleep with a man in his late twenties and to tell them about it. I did not. This is just what happened during my sixteenth year, a teenager in the entertainment industry.

Look at the history of what’s happened to minors who’ve described sexual abuse in Hollywood. Some of them are no longer with us, lost to substance abuse and suicide. Their victimizers? Still working. Protected even as I write this. You know who they are; they’ve been discussed behind closed doors as often as Weinstein was. If I, a person with significant privilege, remain reluctant and at such risk simply by saying a person’s name, what are the options for those who do not have what I have?

Let’s remember the epidemic of violence against women in our society disproportionately affects low income women, particularly women of color, trans and queer women and indigenous women, who are silenced by their economic circumstances and profound mistrust of a justice system that acquits the guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence and continues to oppress people of color. I have the means to hire security if I feel threatened. I have the wealth and insurance to receive mental health care. I have the privilege of having a platform that enables me to write this and have it published, while the most marginalized do not have access to such resources. The reality is, women of color, trans and queer and indigenous women have been leading this fight for decades (forever actually). Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Winona LaDuke, Miss Major, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, to name a few. Misty Upham fought tirelessly to end violence against indigenous women, domestic workers and undocumented women. Misty was found dead at the bottom of a cliff three years ago. Her father, Charles Upham, just made a Facebook post saying she was raped at a party by a Miramax executive. The most marginalized have been left behind. As a cis, white lesbian, I have benefited and have the privileges I have, because of these extraordinary and courageous individuals who have led the way and risked their lives while doing so. White supremacy continues to silence people of color, while I have the rights I have because of these leaders. They are who we should be listening to and learning from.

These abusers make us feel powerless and overwhelmed by their empire. Let’s not forget the sitting Supreme Court justice and President of the United States. One accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, whose testimony was discredited. The other proudly describing his own pattern of assault to an entertainment reporter. How many men in the media – titans of industry – need to be exposed for us to understand the gravity of the situation and to demand the fundamental safety and respect that is our right?

Bill Cosby was known to be predatory. The crimes were his, but many were complicit. Many more chose to look the other way. Harvey was known to be predatory. The crimes were his, but many were complicit. Many more chose to look the other way. We continue to celebrate filmmaker Roman Polanski, who was convicted of drugging and anally raping a young girl and who fled sentencing. A fugitive from justice. I’ve heard the industry decry Weinstein’s behavior and vow to affect meaningful change. But let’s be truthful: the list is long and still protected by the status quo. We have work to do. We cannot look the other way.

I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career. I am ashamed I did this. I had yet to find my voice and was not who I am now and felt pressured, because “of course you have to say yes to this Woody Allen film.” Ultimately, however, it is my choice what films I decide to do and I made the wrong choice. I made an awful mistake.

I want to see these men have to face what they have done. I want them to not have power anymore. I want them to sit and think about who they are without their lawyers, their millions, their fancy cars, houses upon houses, their “playboy” status and swagger.

What I want the most, is for this to result in healing for the victims. For Hollywood to wake up and start taking some responsibility for how we all have played a role in this. I want us to reflect on this endemic issue and how this power dynamic of abuse leads to an enormous amount of suffering. Violence against women is an epidemic in this country and around the world. How is this cascade of immorality and injustice shaping our society? One of the greatest risks to a pregnant woman’s health in the United States is murder. Trans women of color in this country have a life expectancy of thirty-five. Why are we not addressing this as a society? We must remember the consequences of such actions. Mental health issues, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, to name a few.

What are we afraid to say and why can’t we say it? Women, particularly the most marginalized, are silenced, while powerful abusers can scream as loudly as they want, lie as much as they want and continue to profit through it all.

This is a long awaited reckoning. It must be. It’s sad that“codes of conduct” have to be enforced to ensure we experience fundamental human decency and respect. Inclusion and representation are the answer. We’ve learned that the status quo perpetuates unfair, victimizing behavior to protect and perpetuate itself. Don’t allow this behavior to be normalized. Don’t compare wrongs or criminal acts by their degrees of severity. Don’t allow yourselves to be numb to the voices of victims coming forward. Don’t stop demanding our civil rights. I am grateful to anyone and everyone who speaks out against abuse and trauma they have suffered. You are breaking the silence. You are revolution.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 5:57 pm

The GOP has no standards or principles: Trump judge nominee, 36, who has never tried a case, wins approval of Senate panel

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The GOP is revealing itself as bereft of any standards at all: whatever a Republican does is okay. David Savage reports in the LA Times:

Brett J. Talley, President Trump’s nominee to be a federal judge in Alabama, has never tried a case, was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Assn.’s judicial rating committee, has practiced law for only three years and, as a blogger last year, displayed a degree of partisanship unusual for a judicial nominee, denouncing “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and pledging support for the National Rifle Assn.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, approved him for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Talley, 36, is part of what Trump has called the “untold story” of his success in filling the courts with young conservatives.

“The judge story is an untold story. Nobody wants to talk about it,” Trump said last month, standing alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the White House Rose Garden. “But when you think of it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge — but 40 years out.”

Civil rights groups and liberal advocates see the matter differently. They denounced Thursday’s vote, calling it “laughable” that none of the committee Republicans objected to confirming a lawyer with as little experience as Talley to preside over federal trials.

“He’s practiced law for less than three years and never argued a motion, let alone brought a case. This is the least amount of experience I’ve seen in a judicial nominee,” said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

The group was one of several on the left that urged the Judiciary Committee to reject Talley because of his lack of qualifications and because of doubts over whether he had the “temperament and ability to approach cases with the fairness and open-mindedness necessary to serve as a federal judge.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 10:38 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Law

Behold the Donald Trump Golf Course Tax Deduction

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Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

I have three new notes to offer about the Republican tax plan. You have to see them to believe them.
#1: The Golf Course Deduction

The Republican plan eliminates deductions for student loan interest, alimony payments, moving expenses, major medical expenses, school supplies purchased by teachers, and tax credits for parents who adopt children. Sure this hurts some people, but it’s gotta be done. We have to pay for all the rate cuts somehow.

But there’s one deduction they kept: a “conservation easement” for owners of golf courses. I know that sounds like something from SNL or The Onion, but it’s not. It’s really something Republicans decided not to touch.

#2: SALTing the Wounds

For us ordinary schmoes, the Republican tax bill eliminates the deduction for the state and local taxes we pay. But for the rich it’s a whole different matter. Folks with pass-through businesses—lawyers, hedge funds, etc.—not only get a super-special tax rate of only 25 percent, they also get to deduct their state and local taxes.

Now, this might just be a drafting error, but apparently Republicans are dragging their feet on adding language that would clear it up once and for all. They seemed to be hoping that no one would notice, since it’s a pretty arcane provision, but someone did. We’ll see if they eventually feel forced to address it.

#3: The Interview

Gary Cohn, the chief economic advisor to President Trump, gave an interview to John Harwood on CNBC today where he explained why he loves the Republican tax plan:

Cohn: The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan.

Cohn: And we see the whole trickle-down through the economy, and that’s good for the economy.

Cohn: On the estate tax, if you look at the couple of groups who are the biggest advocates for repealing the estate tax, it really is the pass-through business and it’s the farmers.
Harwood: Are you seriously saying with a straight face that getting rid of the estate tax is about farmers and not about very wealthy families?
Cohn: What I’m saying is that it benefits farms, it benefits small businesses, it benefits a lot of different people.
Harwood: Small businesses with more than $11 million estates?
Cohn: We do not believe that death should be a taxable event.

So now we know. Cohn has told us that CEOs are really excited; the rest of will have to be satisfied with a bit of trickle-down; and they have every intention of completely eliminating both the estate tax and the capital gains tax on inherited wealth. “We do not believe that death should be a taxable event.” . . .

Continue reading.

And you’ve probably seen this quote:

“My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), himself a millionaire, said on Tuesday.

When the quid pro quo is this explicit, the “donations” seem very much to be a bribe.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 10:16 am

Posted in GOP

The backstory of environmental lead abatement (the biggest factor in the declining crime rate)

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post on the reasons for the phase-out of leaded gasoline, the greatest contributor to environmental lead:

As you all know, I’m smitten by all things lead related. A couple of days ago I came across an interesting little historical anecdote that I’m going to tell you now.

When I was writing my big lead-crime piece several years ago, one of the things I was curious about was why the EPA decided to phase out leaded gasoline starting in 1975. Unfortunately, there aren’t very many people around today who were personally involved in this stuff 40 years ago, and I ended up getting several conflicting answers that I couldn’t really reconcile. Since it wasn’t central to my story anyway, I gave up and skipped the whole thing.

Then, last week, reader David P. pointed me to a column by Barry Nussbaum, chief statistician at the EPA for over a decade and currently president of the American Statistical Association. As soon as I read it I called Nussbaum, who was a young EPA analyst in the late 70s when he—well, we’ll get to that. First, though, the answer to my question.

According to Nussbaum, EPA wanted places like California to reduce smog, and that meant cars would have to be fitted with catalytic converters. However, since gasoline lead ruins catalytic converters, refineries needed to produced unleaded gasoline. This was the initial impetus behind unleaded gasoline. The fact that it also reduced atmospheric lead was basically a happy accident.

Once that was done, however, EPA started looking more closely at the health effects of lead. It was no secret that high levels of lead poisoning were dangerous, but new research was showing that even moderate levels could be dangerous, especially in young children. So now EPA had two reasons to phase out leaded gasoline.

As it happens, they were doing this on two tracks. One track was unleaded gasoline. The other was a phasedown of the amount of lead in leaded gasoline: from 1.7 grams per gallon in 1975 to 1.2 in 1976, 0.9 in 1977, and 0.6 in 1978. But there was a problem with this: reducing the amount of lead also reduced the amount of gasoline you could refine from each barrel of crude oil. The difference wasn’t huge, but after the oil embargo of 1973 it was enough to raise policy questions. Thanks to all this, in 1979 Jimmy Carter was considering whether to halt the EPA phasedown of lead in gasoline.

By coincidence, at the same time HUD was trying to get more funding for its program to remove lead paint from old housing stock. As part of this effort, EPA looked at the incidence of high blood lead levels in children, and Nussbaum produced the following chart:

There are three things to notice about this chart:

  • It shows that blood lead levels spike every year in the summer.
  • It shows that lead levels in children appear to be correlated with gasoline lead emitted into the atmosphere.
  • It shows that black and Hispanic children had really high levels of lead poisoning.¹

The first item—unfortunately for HUD—suggested that lead poisoning was not correlated with lead paint in housing. After all, there’s no reason to think that kids are exposed to more lead paint in the summer. The second item suggests that lead poisoning is correlated with gasoline lead.² And the third item immediately convinced Carter to continue the lead phasedown. “He stated he did not want any policy that might have a particularly deleterious effect on these two groups,” Nussbaum says.

On a statistical note, Nussbaum adds this:  . . .

Continue reading.

Jimmy Carter is a good man.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 9:46 am

Going the other way with Stubble Trubble’s Up & Adam

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I noted yesterday that Up & Adam has a (wonderful) fragrance of espresso and vanilla, and I used Paul Sebastian aftershave to continue the vanilla theme. Today I went with a coffee-fragranced aftershave, Phoenix Artisan’s Spring-Heeled Jack, to continue the coffee theme.

The miniature horsehair brush from Vie-Long did a fine job and held plenty of lather for a three-pass shave, and every time I use my Fatip Testina Gentile I’m glad I chose that razor for my son’s three boys (for the day they start shaving): extremely comfortable and efficient.

And Spring-Heeled Jack was a good choice. I feel buoyed up already, beyond the feeling one usually gets on Friday.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2017 at 9:41 am

Posted in Shaving

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