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Bending the medical cost curve

July 25, 2014

Medical care is an area where more is not always better, neither for the patient who suffers from the real health harm that can cause, nor for those footing the bill. Bending the cost curve may require more focus on how primary care is done. Surprisingly, the projected Medicare cost curve is starting to decline.

Republicans vs. municipal fiber internet

July 24, 2014

Needless to say, TimeWarner and other cable companies oppose municipalities building their own fiber infrastructure. Alas, they have many state legislatures and the House Republicans on their side. Or should that be: in their pockets?

Child immigrants

July 23, 2014

National Review claims unaccompanied children were turned back at Ellis Island. Mother Jones digs a bit deeper, and finds mostly they weren’t. No doubt, the same argument raged then as now. Probably much the same political theatre. And at both times, those who resorted to claimed worry about disease were more showing how they view foreigners than any real concern about public health.

Women, discrimination, science

July 21, 2014

Despite the fact that women now receive more bachelors degrees than men, they still are under-represented in the sciences. Astonishing to me, the proportion of women graduate students in computer science is lower today than when I was in graduate school. Tauriq Moosa points to the ways we still steer young women away from science. Andrew Thaler gathers related news stories, including one about sexual harassment of women graduate students at school and in the field.

The faith of a child

July 20, 2014

From the education departments of Boston University and Harvard comes a fun study suggesting that to five and six year-old children, the imagined worlds of Wolverine and Jesus are not all that different. Children raised in religious households were more inclined to think other imaginary and impossible stories also were real. (Cite.)

Maybe. Such studies are fraught with all sorts of difficulties. Ignoring the methodological issues (small numbers, singular set-up, and the test groups divided by parental choice), there are significant interpretive problems. Here’s the claimed upshot:

This conclusion contradicts previous studies in which children were said to be “born believers,” i.e. that they possessed “a natural credulity toward extraordinary beings with superhuman powers. Indeed, secular children responded to religious stories in much the same way as they responded to fantastical stories — they judged the protagonist to be pretend.”

Since the study looks at only one age group, it can’t refute that claim. Maybe children do start out born believers, unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, and secular children just learn more quickly to make that distinction. It’s not even certain that the reality-fantasy distinction is what the study is teasing out, rather than, say, a respect for authority. Maybe religious children that age are more likely to believe what adults tell them. Or maybe there is a cluster of gullibility genes, and those who inherit them are born to believe. It’s easy to spin all sorts of explanations for this.

Still, it’s interesting and suggestive. And fun. But just one data point, still.

Economic comparisons

July 18, 2014

Every analytic comparison relies on some choice of what to include in the set of things being compared, and how to measure them. Here are two economic examples, interesting just because they show how much difference those choices can make. The recovery from the 2008 financial crisis looks laggardly, compared to US recessions of the last fifty years, but quite good, compared to other financial crises. And the “typical” American looks fairly well off, or fairly mediocre in wealth, depending on misuse of mean for median. Interestingly, if you look at the rankings in that last, Norway and Switzerland fare even worse. The important thing is to avoid selecting a comparison simply because it is convenient for your argument or point. And to watch for when others do that!

Why math matters

July 17, 2014

It adds nuance to your thinking. Examples, tomorrow.


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