September 25, 2013

"Science" Has Spoken

Unfortunately, our progressive public education system isn't listening:

The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.

In recent eye-tracking experiments by the researchers Bradley Morris and Shannon Zentall, kids were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise suggesting they had an innate talent were then twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.

By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.

It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.

If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?

Possibly related:

In econo-speak: "an increase in the unemployment rate makes finding an alternative job more difficult, which reduces the relative cost of effort." In human: People worked harder in states where finding a job was harder, since they were totally freaked out about being unemployed. Fascinatingly, the economists found that the least productive workers had the highest gains in measured effort -- possibly because they felt the most scrutinized in areas with high unemployment.

We are shocked.... shocked to find Science Denial in this establishment. Who do these folks think they are... Republicans?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:31 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 24, 2013

It Was Right Where They Expected It To Be

Under a post by Eric Blair about one of the NY Times' never ending stream of faux "war" articles, Grim commented:

It's probably possible to categorize NYT Trolls in much the way that the TV Tropes website works.

A partial list:

1) Sensitive Man articles: 'As a man, I felt very uncomfortable during the silent meditation at the Buddhist retreat, and the ritual enemas were hard for me to take. In the end, though, I felt completely cleansed by the experience. I am on the way to getting in touch with my feminine side and becoming a better person.'

2) Mommy Wars articles: 'Although it's controversial, half of all mothers are terrible people.' Repeat next week with accusations against the other half.

3) The South Is Hell articles: 'Half church and half Klan rally, this little town we visited for an hour is emblematic of everything wrong with the South and conservatives.' (No actual churches or Klan rallies appear in the article.)

4) Republicans Hate Women-and-or-Science articles. 'Imagine my surprise to learn that my doctor was a Baptist and a donor to conservative causes! Immediately I ran back through twenty years of health advice given me and my children to see if I could spot any signs of ideological hate. Here are my free-association notes from that process.'

5) Racism Is Alive (but only from white people). 'The following anecdote about a particularly stupid clerk at a store I visited last week will demonstrate that white people are completely blind to the evils they inflict on the whole rest of humanity.'

Others?

The one that came to the half vast mind of the Editorial Staff was this one:

6. Being an Inconsiderate, Self Absorbed B*tch is So ... Liberating! "After years of complaining that all men are selfish, insensitive clods, I decided to lower myself to their level and embrace the behavior I've been whining about for, like... everrrrrrrrrrrrr. Sure, I'm divorced and living by myself now (well, except for the cats) but on the other hand I'm so much happier..."

"Sort of."

"Except for the "loneliness" and "no sex" parts. And the hypocrisy. And the no sex. But still...."

Humans can rationalize just about anything. And we tend to find exactly what we spend the most time looking for.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:39 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 12, 2013

Important Pivoting Alert

The leader of the free world is about to direct his laser-like focus to yet another urgent priority:

The White House is signaling it wants to shift back to the economy after two weeks in which the Syrian crisis has dominated President Obama’s schedule and workload.

Obama will be “focusing” on issues related to the economy in the coming weeks, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday at his daily briefing.

He said the president wants to push forward with economic policies that the White House believes will grow the middle class.

Obama himself in his prime-time address to the nation Tuesday on Syria said voters wanted him focused on the economy and not on Syria. Public support for a military intervention in Syria is low.

Hmmm.... should the President focus on one of several global humanitarian crises that have been going on for quite some time? Or should he try to avert a total shutdown of the federal government?

Which is more pressing: long term problems occurring halfway around the world over which the United States has little direct control? Or the ticking domestic time bomb set to explode in two weeks? It is a puzzlement:

Lawmakers must agree on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government by the end of September, which also marks the end of the fiscal year. If they fail to do so, the government would shut down, except for essential services.

The president had wanted to use the beginning of September to press forward on his economic policies ahead of fights with Congress on government spending and debt.

The nation is also rapidly approaching the drop-dead date for hitting the debt ceiling, which restricts Washington’s ability to loan money and cover its payment obligations. An analysis released Tuesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated the country would hit the debt ceiling sometime between Oct. 18 and Nov. 5.

Obama had hoped to enter those battles with momentum from a mid-August campaign-style tour that included a college bus trip through the Northeast, a visit to an Amazon shipping facility in Tennessee and a discussion of mortgage reform in Arizona.

The president had planned to continue that push this week, but that plan was knocked aside by the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government on Aug. 21.

When all else fails, announce another pivot. Or better yet, summon the unicorns.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:29 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 03, 2013

Daily Randomness

The corporate version of the yellow card in soccer:

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CWCID

Those dirty, rotten 8 percenters are at it, again:

When Robert Gibbs was preparing to step down as White House press secretary in early 2011, Barack Obama stressed to The New York Times that he understood the life pressures weighing heavily on his loyal aide. After all, the president said in a revealing comment, Gibbs has been “going 24/7 with relatively modest pay.”

Modest pay?

Gibbs was making $172,200 a year on the public payroll in a bad economy, which was an income higher than 92 percent of all American families. But such is the bipartisan sense of martyrdom in Washington that almost no one questioned Gibbs’ intention to move to greener pastures while Obama was still in the White House.

So what is Private Citizen Gibbs up to these days?

He was was recently in Baku, Azerbaijan, along with David Plouffe (Obama’s 2008 campaign manager) and Jim Messina (who held the job in 2012). The Washington Post uncovered the reason behind the mid-May reunion in such an exotic locale: The three political operatives were paid five-digit fees to speak at a conference designed to burnish the image of a former Soviet republic with a dicey human rights record.

So much for restoring America's moral legitimacy in the eyes of the global community. Oh, and all that talk about the need to address the unbearable injustice of income inequality? You didn't take it seriously, did you?

Because in Washington, a sound argument grounded in facts is no substitute for playground-level name calling:

"Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler," tweeted David Plouffe, the political guru (and unofficial adviser) for President Obama, referring to the chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

"And loose ethically today," Plouffe ended his tweet, linking to a story about Issa answering questions on CNN's “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley about the controversy over IRS staffers targeting conservative groups for scrutiny, in which Issa referred to White House press secretary Jay Carney as a "paid liar."

...Plouffe, however, is clearly interested in another focus, allegations one or two generations old about Issa, not current questions about the IRS and the Obama administration.

Asked what his tweet allegations have to do with whether IRS officials in Cincinnati took direction from officials in Washington, Plouffe told CNN "the credibility and motivation of accusers are valid here."

Of course the press will fulminate about the 'paid liar' jab endlessly and gloss over "Mr. Grand Theft auto". That's business as usual, but one sided press coverage doesn't change the fact that neither side is enhancing its credibility here. Is there anyone left in Washington who can still make an argument on the merits?

If there were, would anyone listen? Maybe that's the real problem.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:01 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 26, 2013

I Do Not Know About You People....

...but I just hate it when this sort of thing happens:

Elaborate greetings are the norm, I’ve found, when one enters a Central African village. So it was a surprise when I noticed that many people weren’t shaking hands the morning I arrived in Tiringoulou, a town of about 2,000 people in one of the remotest corners of the Central African Republic, in March 2010. I soon found out the reason: the day before, a traveler passing through town on a Sudanese merchant truck had, with a simple handshake, removed two men’s penises.

As best I could reconstruct from witness accounts, the stranger had stopped to purchase a cup of tea at the market. After handing over his money, he clasped the vendor’s hand. The tea seller felt an electric tingling course through his body and immediately sensed that his penis had shrunk to a size smaller than that of a baby’s. His yells quickly drew a crowd. Somehow in the fray a second man fell victim as well.

Be careful out there.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:23 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 19, 2013

Unprecedented Transparency

Apparently, ideas of what constitutes transparency differ:

Obama boasted Thursday during a Google+ Hangout from the White House: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” The people who cover him day to day see it very differently.

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” said ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every president back to Gerald R. Ford. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”

This struck us, too:

One authentically new technique pioneered by the Obama White House is extensive government creation of content (photos of the president, videos of White House officials, blog posts written by Obama aides), which can then be instantly released to the masses through social media. They often include footage unavailable to the press.

Brooks Kraft, a contributing photographer to Time, said White House officials “have a willing and able and hungry press that eats this stuff up, partly because the news organizations are cash-strapped.”

“White House handout photos used to be reserved for historically important events — 9/11, or deliberations about war,” Kraft said. “This White House regularly releases [day-in-the-life] images of the president … a nice picture of the president looking pensive … from events that could have been covered by the press pool. But I don’t blame the White House for doing it, because networks and newspapers use them. So the White House has built its own content distribution network.”

So the White House has not only taken over a job formerly performed by the media at their own expense, but has dramatically increased the scope of the job.

Who's paying for all of this?

Oh yeah. We are. Kinda reminds me of something else I read about the President doing everyone else's job but his own ... [rummaging around in the brain housing group]... Ah - here it is!

... the Obama administration continued to back away from an immigration plan that leaked over the weekend. After USA Today reported on a leaked immigration bill that Obama's team was assembling as various factions on Capitol Hill worked on their own legislation, an unnamed administration official told NBC News on Monday that the White House was not "floating anything" and framed the leaked legislation as a backup plan.

So let's get this straight: the President has time to do Congress's job in a kinda-sorta half assed way that he ends up having to back away from, but doesn't have time to stop the sequester he proposed in the first place or meet his annual budget deadline.

Maybe we need a national "backup plan" to protect the country against Obama's inability to follow through?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:21 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 12, 2013

Green Cars and Unchecked Righteousness

The Editorial Staff are liking this Charles Lane person very much:

There’s simply no denying that the administration’s electric-vehicle project was a mistake.

But it’s worth asking precisely what kind of mistake (beyond eminently foreseeable and terribly expensive). As Bruce Springsteen once sang: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”

I accept the president’s good intentions. He didn’t set out to rip off the public. Nor was the electric-car dream a Democrats-only delusion. Several Republican pols shared it, too.

Rather, the debacle is a case study in unchecked righteousness. The administration assumed the worthiness and urgency of its goals. Americans should want electric cars, and therefore they would, apparently.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is “too damn inefficient,” and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.

The department has recently backed away from the million-car target, in favor of reducing battery costs to $300 per kilowatt hour by 2015 (from $650 today). Even this seems dubious, given the APS symposium’s view that “only incremental improvements can be expected” in lithium-ion batteries.

Chu is on his way out but still dreaming. “For the engineers in the room or those who follow this, you might be saying to yourself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ” he remarked at the Washington Auto Show. “We’re not smoking anything. They are ambitious goals but they are achievable goals.”

I might add that Chu does not own a car.

If only car buyers would cease this selfish, uncooperative behavior. The President has told them what they ought to want to spend their hard earned money upon.

What more do they need to know?

Posted by Cassandra at 05:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 16, 2013

Confirmation Bias in Action

This Dan Slater piece on the "science" of evo-psych made us laugh:

A COUPLE of evolutionary psychologists recently published a book about human sexual behavior in prehistory called “Sex at Dawn.” Upon hearing of the project, one colleague, dubious that a modern scholar could hope to know anything about that period, asked them, “So what do you do, close your eyes and dream?”

Actually, it’s a little more involved. Evolutionary psychologists who study mating behavior often begin with a hypothesis about how modern humans mate: say, that men think about sex more than women do. Then they gather evidence — from studies, statistics and surveys — to support that assumption. Finally, and here’s where the leap occurs, they construct an evolutionary theory to explain why men think about sex more than women, where that gender difference came from, what adaptive purpose it served in antiquity, and why we’re stuck with the consequences today.

...Of course, no fossilized record can really tell us how people behaved or thought back then, much less why they behaved or thought as they did. Nonetheless, something funny happens when social scientists claim that a behavior is rooted in our evolutionary past. Assumptions about that behavior take on the immutability of a physical trait — they come to seem as biologically rooted as opposable thumbs or ejaculation.

The Editorial Staff suspect we might have written about this a time or twelve. A few years ago, we noted the presence of a WEIRD sampling bias that casts considerable doubt on the majority of social science studies produced by unimpeachable "experts":

Who are the people studied in behavioral science research? A recent analysis of the top journals in six sub‐disciplines of Psychology from 2003‐2007 revealed that 68% of subjects came from the US, and a full 96% of subjects were from Western industrialized countries, specifically North America, Europe, Australia, and Israel (Arnett 2008). The make‐up of these samples appears to largely reflect the country of residence of the authors, as 73% of first authors were at American universities, and 99% were at universities in Western countries. This means that 96% of psychological samples come from countries with only 12% of the world’s population.

Even within the West, however, the typical sampling method for psychological studies is far from representative...67% of the American samples (and 80% of the samples from other countries) were composed solely of undergraduates in psychology courses (Arnett 2008).

Having volunteered to participate in several such studies during her freshman year in college, the blog princess came away less than impressed with the rigor of many of these studies. When an 18 year old who has never taken a Psych course can spot holes big enough to drive a truck through in a study, it's a fair bet that more than one factor is not being controlled for:

Everyone has always assumed — and early research had shown — that women desired fewer sexual partners over a lifetime than men. But in 2003, two behavioral psychologists, Michele G. Alexander and Terri D. Fisher, published the results of a study that used a “bogus pipeline” — a fake lie detector. When asked about actual sexual partners, rather than just theoretical desires, the participants who were not attached to the fake lie detector displayed typical gender differences. Men reported having had more sexual partners than women. But when participants believed that lies about their sexual history would be revealed by the fake lie detector, gender differences in reported sexual partners vanished. In fact, women reported slightly more sexual partners (a mean of 4.4) than did men (a mean of 4.0).

In 2009, another long-assumed gender difference in mating — that women are choosier than men — also came under siege. In speed dating, as in life, the social norm instructs women to sit in one place, waiting to be approached, while the men rotate tables. But in one study of speed-dating behavior, the evolutionary psychologists Eli J. Finkel and Paul W. Eastwick switched the “rotator” role. The men remained seated and the women rotated. By manipulating this component of the gender script, the researchers discovered that women became less selective — they behaved more like stereotypical men — while men were more selective and behaved more like stereotypical women. The mere act of physically approaching a potential romantic partner, they argued, engendered more favorable assessments of that person.

Recently, a third pillar appeared to fall. To back up the assumption that an enormous gap exists between men’s and women’s attitudes toward casual sex, evolutionary psychologists typically cite a classic study published in 1989. Men and women on a college campus were approached in public and propositioned with offers of casual sex by “confederates” who worked for the study. The confederate would say: “I have been noticing you around campus and I find you to be very attractive.” The confederate would then ask one of three questions: (1) “Would you go out with me tonight?” (2) “Would you come over to my apartment tonight?” or (3) “Would you go to bed with me tonight?”

Roughly equal numbers of men and women agreed to the date. But women were much less likely to agree to go to the confederate’s apartment. As for going to bed with the confederate, zero women said yes, while about 70 percent of males agreed.

Those results seemed definitive — until a few years ago, when Terri D. Conley, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, set out to re-examine what she calls “one of the largest documented sexuality gender differences,” that men have a greater interest in casual sex than women.

Ms. Conley found the methodology of the 1989 paper to be less than ideal. “No one really comes up to you in the middle of the quad and asks, ‘Will you have sex with me?’ ” she told me recently. “So there needs to be a context for it. If you ask people what they would do in a specific situation, that’s a far more accurate way of getting responses.” In her study, when men and women considered offers of casual sex from famous people, or offers from close friends whom they were told were good in bed, the gender differences in acceptance of casual-sex proposals evaporated nearly to zero.

IN light of this new research, will Darwinians consider revising their theories to reflect the possibility that our mating behavior is less hard-wired than they had believed?

Probably not.

Scientists, like every other profession composed of fallible human beings, has been plagued by its fair share of stupidity, dishonesty, and outright fraud. This isn't a knock on scientists. It's a reflection of the fact that we're not always as rational as we claim to be.

Which only underscores our skepticism of people who want government to be guided by the latest "science". In an era where religion and centuries of human experience are largely discredited, Science has replaced both as the ultimate appeal to authority. We're not supposed to question it, say the enlightened folks who drive around with "Question authority" bumper stickers on their cars.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:30 AM | Comments (77) | TrackBack

July 13, 2012

Friday Stressbusters

Something to listen to before you start the work day:

I could play with this all day.

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Posted by Cassandra at 06:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack