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26 Feb 23:10

The escaped llamas show the threat that llama extremism poses to America

by Amanda Taub
lbstopher

This did not make the Times of India, but RT (Russia Today) did cover it on their broadcast.

America was transfixed this afternoon by the spectacle of two escaped llamas running amok through the streets of Phoenix. The llamas have now been detained, but many questions remain:

  1. What prompted the llamas to stage this operation?
  2. Was this as spontaneous as it appeared, or had the llamas pre-planned it?
  3. Do we know if the llamas acted alone?
  4. Does the FBI have a program in place to deal with the threat of home-grown llama extremists?
  5. Is it true that the llamas are rumored to have traveled to a camp in Syria to receive specialized training?
  6. How did the FBI overlook the obvious warning signs of llama radicalization in this Vine of a llama frolicking to DMX, which is rumored to have circulated among extremists?
  7. Could today's llama escape have been a false flag operation staged by alpacas to encourage an American military response against llamas, who are their enemies?
  8. Is it true that the so-called "brown llama" was in fact an alpaca who had infiltrated the llama community to act as an agent provocateur?
  9. Will moderate llama leaders be able to convince Americans that most llamas are peaceful, law-abiding citizens?
  10. Or is it already too late?
  11. Have thousands of llamas already been swept up in a nationwide dragnet designed to target llamas with a history of "suspicious activity"?
  12. Do scores of foreign-born llamas now face deportation simply because of their llama heritage?
  13. Will llama civil liberties be curtailed as Congress rushes to take action in order to appear tough on the llama threat?
  14. Is it true that the Obama administration has already petitioned the FISA court to increase its surveillance of the llama community?
  15. Where are the llamas who mounted today's escape attempt being detained?
  16. Were they mirandized after being apprehended?
  17. How can the Obama administration justify its decision use a specialized military tribunal for the llamas, given their previous push to move camelid trials to federal court?
  18. Will the llama tribunal permit hearsay evidence from alpacas?
  19. How could the alpacas have all that evidence ready to go so quickly?
  20. Doesn't it seem like the alpacas have been planning this whole thing for a while?
  21. Isn't it time to WAKE UP, SHEEPLE?
  22. Oh god, did we even consider whether sheep could be involved here too?
  23. What about goats?
  24. Did we miss the point of George Orwell's Animal Farm in a big way?
  25. Was he trying to warn us?
  26. Should we have paid more attention in Ms. Laughlin's 8th Grade English class?
  27. Can Ms. Laughlin save us now?
  28. Will she?
  29. Please?
25 Feb 00:47

CDC: Over 90% Of New US HIV Infections Come From Those Not Getting Treatment

by Joe Jervis
Via press release from the CDC:
More than 90 percent of new HIV infections in the United States could be averted by diagnosing people living with HIV and ensuring they receive prompt, ongoing care and treatment. This finding was published today in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using statistical modeling, the authors developed the first U.S. estimates of the number of HIV transmissions from people engaged at five consecutive stages of care (including with those who are unaware of their infection, those who are retained in care and those who have their virus under control through treatment).

The research also shows that the further people progress in HIV care, the less likely they are to transmit their virus. “By quantifying where HIV transmissions occur at each stage of care, we can identify when and for whom prevention and treatment efforts will have the most impact,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “We could prevent the vast majority of new infections tomorrow by improving the health of people living with HIV today.”

The analysis showed that 30 percent of new HIV infections were transmitted from people who did not know that they were infected with the virus, highlighting the importance of getting tested. People who had been diagnosed were less likely to transmit their infection, in part because people who know they have HIV are more likely to take steps to protect their partners from infection.

“Positive or negative, an HIV test opens the door to prevention. For someone who is positive, it can be the gateway to care and the signal to take steps to protect partners from infection. For someone who tests negative, it can be a direct link to important prevention services to help them stay HIV-free,” said Eugene McCray, MD, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “At CDC, we’re working hard to make testing as simple and accessible as possible.”

Today’s analysis suggests that simply being in care can help people living with HIV avoid transmission of their virus. According to the model, people who were engaged in ongoing HIV care, but not prescribed antiretroviral treatment, were half as likely (51.8 percent) as those who were diagnosed but not in care to transmit their virus. Being prescribed HIV treatment further lowered the risk that a person would pass the virus to others.
25 Feb 13:00

Tweet Of The Day

by Joe Jervis
26 Feb 12:46

Double-Blinded Peer Review

lbstopher

Editors need to send papers to people who know the subject area and are NOT the authors themselves. I think my husband is blinded to the authors he reviews and they are blinded to him as well (Management field).

Nature has decided to add an option for double-blind peer review - papers would be sent to the referees without author names or institutional affiliation on them. I think this is a worthwhile idea, but I agree with many of the points in this post over at Retraction Watch by David Vaux in Melbourne.

A big potential problem is that the double-blind system is optional. It's reasonable to assume that papers from Big Names at Big Labs won't bother, because they have more to lose by being covered up. So the double-blinded papers might end up disproportionately from smaller groups who are trying to even the playing field, and if that happens, it risks becoming a negative signal all its own. It might be better if Nature were to take the plunge and blind everything. And what about the editors? They're the ones deciding at the very beginning about whether to send a paper out for review at all, and at a journal like Nature that's a big step in itself. Should the papers be blinded even before they get to that stage? Why not?

It's true that in some cases a reviewer will be able to guess where a given paper came from, or at least to narrow it down. There's no way around that, but I still think that double-blind peer review is a worthwhile idea. Will any other big name journal follow Nature's lead, or go even further?

23 Feb 22:10

People were surprised at Lady Gaga's great voice at the Oscars. They shouldn't have been.

by Kelsey McKinney
lbstopher

you go Lady Gaga!

Lady Gaga has never been the most polite award show attendee. She pretended to die on stage and ended up covered in blood during her performance at the 2009 VMAs. The next year, she wore a dress made of raw meat. At the Grammys in 2011, she hatched her way out of an enormous egg. Her shows were dramatic and often controversial, which is why ears perked up when the Oscars began marketing this year's show with her name.

She didn't arrive in monster form, though. For her Oscar debut, she donned a white, floor length ball gown with blonde hair extensions, and paid tribute to the 1965 Best Picture-winning musical The Sound of Music. She sang a five-minute medley of "The Hills Are Alive," "My Favorite Things," "Edelweiss" and "Climb Every Mountain."

She was phenomenal. Throughout the entire performance, she only moved to dramatically lift her skirt or throw an arm out to the side. The focus of the audience, for once, was on her voice.

But Gaga has always been an incredible musician and vocalist. Her talent isn't new — it was discounted because many people didn't like or understand her style of artistic expression.

Lady Gaga has always been an incredible vocalist

Gaga was better known for her stunts than her abilities during the height of her fame in 2009. People wanted to talk about her costumes and her wigs more than they wanted to listen to her music. But what Gaga did last night at the Oscars was give them absolutely no choice. Her performance was minimal and the background almost disappeared. It was Lady Gaga at her most accessible. But it certainly wasn't some dramatic transformation.

Lady Gaga was born Stefani Germanotta, and grew up playing music and performing in stage shows. As a child in New York, she learned to play classical piano, trained with Christina Aguilera's vocal coach, and studied music history carefully. She attended NYU's Tisch School for the Arts where she became interested in performers like Elton John and glam-rockers like Queen, an obsession that would carry over to her performances at the height of her fame.

But this Gaga, the vocalist with a slightly-over-four-octave range and one of the best tones in popular music, has always been there. Here's Gaga performing as an NYU student.

And here's her at the 2010 VMAs where she performed with Elton John at a double piano:

Watching Gaga perform live is watching an artist, but it's also watching a truly great vocalist. She isn't lip-synching. She isn't singing her songs the way they're performed on the albums. She's shaking up the melodies, and switching the keys. She's demonstrating that she's not just a boombox, she's a vocalist.

Her voice isn't new. It's been there all along. So why did people seem so surprised to hear her sing at the Oscars?

Why we discount pop stars

Pop stars stay popular by following and breaking trends strategically. When Lady Gaga entered the public consciousness, pop was a bland game for the most part. When Gaga came to fame in 2008, the pop market was pretty saturated with female vocalists who played piano. Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys, Jordin Sparks, and Sara Bareilles were the top four female vocalists, according to the Billboard charts. (Further down the list were the future big names of pop — Katy Perry and Rihanna and Taylor Swift.)

In August of 2008, Gaga dropped The Fame, but the album was a sleeper. The lead single "Just Dance" didn't hit the Billboard Top 100 until January of 2009 when the world was ready for something new, bolder, and stranger.

Take Gaga's 2011 Grammy performance of "Born This Way" as an example. This is a mild piece of performance art for her. Sure, she emerges from an egg at the beginning and has some overdramatic eye make-up, but in general this is a pretty standard pop routine — there's a dramatic intro, a dance number, a break down, and a fiery conclusion.

But compared to an Alicia Keys performance, what Gaga did was insane. It also rocketed her to an unbelievable amount of fame. That was strategic on Gaga's (and her management's) part, and she wasn't the only one doing it. Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and Gaga were all wearing absurd costumes and pushing the limits of what popular could be.

It's that construction, that careful deliberation and decision-making, of pop music that many people use to completely discount an entire genre. Take one of the biggest criticisms of Beyoncé after this year's Grammy debacle with Kanye West: people declared earnestly that Beck deserved to win Album of the Year because he played 14 instruments, while Beyoncé needed four people to write a song.

That criticism ignores the impact of both artists, and instead places their value on a countable element. It ignores natural talent. It also assumes that Beyoncé needs more writers because she is not as good an artist, not because writing a pop song is an inherently more competitive, and thus more difficult, task.

That construction, of course, can be manipulated for evil, and place people with bad voices and little talent into the spotlight, but rarely do those people make it for long. They get caught lip-synching or flub their choreography. To stay a pop star requires the same amount of ability as any other genre, but not all of it is musical. Pop music is discounted because it requires more than musical ability to succeed. It requires a certain look, a certain sound, a certain willingness to transform and push limits that other genres don't.

The New Gaga is easier to accept

The thing about Gaga, though, is that she has always had the musical training to make her acceptable to music snobs and pop haters alike. They just ignored that. Any time Gaga played live, she was phenomenal. She sang with grit in her voice and a range to envy. She played the piano constantly in various insane wardrobes and never missed a note. Whether she was singing a pop song in a blue suit set and sunglasses or singing The Sound of Music at the Oscars shouldn't have mattered. But it did.

As Spencer Kornhaber wrote for the Atlantic:

"Back then, she used bizarre clothes and brash, earnest rock music to dramatize the idea that being true to one’s own desires and identity was a radical act—that people might make fun of you, but that a community of like-minded freaks would always have your back. Her move to classic styles visually and sonically isn't necessarily a rejection of that idea; she feels like singing cabaret, and so sales be damned, she's doing it."

Ultimately, accepting Lady Gaga in a white ball gown being hugged by Julie Andrews is a hell of a lot easier for the American public than to accept a woman in sparkly sunglasses and no pants as an artist. But it's the exact same construction of image that she underwent in 2008. Singing with Tony Bennett on his most recent album, and at the Grammys in a pin-up-esque dress, is image construction.

This time, Gaga's dressing up as a nice girl instead of a radical monster, and so she's easier to accept as an artist and a musician. But Gaga was just as talented when she was radical as she is right now.

WATCH: 'The anatomy of Taylor Swift's new hit, Style'

22 Feb 17:28

Homeland Security Chief: Threat To U.S. Malls 'A New Phase' For Terrorists

by Scott Neuman
lbstopher

Is he talking about Amazon, because they have been around a while...

Homeland Security Chief: Threat To U.S. Malls 'A New Phase' For Terrorists

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says a video released by al-Shabab

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says a video released by al-Shabab "reflects [a] new phase" for terrorism networks.

Cliff Owen/AP

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson says he's taking seriously a call by Islamist extremists for attacks on shopping malls in the West, including Minnesota's giant Mall of America.

In an interview on CNN's State of the Union program, Johnson said a video released by the Somali-based group al-Shabab "reflects [a] new phase" in which terrorist networks publicly call "for independent actors in their homelands to carry out attacks.

"We're beyond the phase now where these groups would send foreign operatives into countries after being trained some place," he said.

At the end of a 77-minute video — focused mainly on the conflict between Kenya and Somalia and the deadly 2013 assault on a mall in Nairobi — an unidentified man hints that those sympathetic with the extremist group could hit similar targets in the West.

"If just a handful of mujahedeen fighters could bring Kenya to a complete stand-still for nearly a week, then imagine what a dedicated mujahedeen in the West could do to the American or Jewish-owned shopping centers across the world," the man said. "What if such an attack was to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London's Oxford Street?"

Mall of America, in a statement released to Minnesota Public Radio, said it was aware of the threats.

"We take any potential threat seriously and respond appropriately. We have implemented extra security precautions. Some may be noticeable to guests, and others won't be," the statement reads. "We will continue to follow the situation, along with the federal, state and local law enforcement and will remain vigilant as we always do in similar situations."

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
20 Feb 16:20

It's so cold in North Carolina that cars are leaving behind ice sculptures

by Brad Plumer

This image is surreal. Two people in Greenville, NC, reportedly spotted this ice sculpture left behind after a Jeep Cherokee pulled out of the parking lot of Vidant Medical Center on Tuesday:

(NBC/WITN/Twitter)

The photo was sent in by a reader to WITN, an NBC affiliate in North Carolina (they also have another picture from a different angle). North Carolina was hit by a cold snap and freezing rain earlier this week.

This wasn't an isolated incident, either. Mike Maze, a meteorologist at WRAl-TV 5 in Raleigh, NC, posted on Facebook this reader photo of an ice sculpture left behind by a Dodge Charger:

Picture sent from Stan Bryda of Fayetteville (Mike Maze/Facebook)

How does something like this happen? One eyewitness told NBC that the Jeep Cherokee owner had warmed up the vehicle for a bit before pulling out of the parking spot — allowing the car to slide right out from under the ice.

In general, there's no need for people to idle their engines for long periods of time before driving in the winter. "Most manufacturers recommend driving off gently after about 30 seconds," advises the Department of Energy. "The engine will warm up faster being driven, which will allow the heat to turn on sooner, decrease your fuel costs, and reduce emissions."*

That said, there is one potential upside to idling — spectacular ice sculptures.

------

(* Note: There are some exceptions to the "no need to idle rule," as Chris Mooney runs down in exhaustive detail here. If you're waiting for ice to melt off your windshield, for instance, that's an excellent reason to wait. And some cities like Minneapolis advise idling for a bit longer when the weather dips below 0°F. And obviously if you're warming up the car for someone else, that's up to you. That said, it does seem like a fair bit of fuel gets wasted because many people believe engines always need a long warm-up period in winter.)

20 Feb 18:42

Arctic Temperatures Create Enormous Ice Formations At Niagara Falls

by Jackie Northam

Arctic Temperatures Create Enormous Ice Formations At Niagara Falls

A partially frozen American Falls in sub-freezing temperatures is seen in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Tuesday. Temperature dropped to 6 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday. The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill warning for western New York from midnight Wednesday to Friday.

A partially frozen American Falls in sub-freezing temperatures is seen in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Tuesday. Temperature dropped to 6 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday. The National Weather Service has issued a wind chill warning for western New York from midnight Wednesday to Friday.

Lindsay DeDario/Reuters/Landov
Tourists visit the frozen Niagara Falls on Thursday in Ontario, Canada. Niagara Falls has frozen over due to temperatures which dropped to 16F on Wednesday.

Tourists visit the frozen Niagara Falls on Thursday in Ontario, Canada. Niagara Falls has frozen over due to temperatures which dropped to 16F on Wednesday.

Norm Betts/Barcroft Media/Landov

The Arctic cold snap that has gripped much of the U.S. lately may be causing hardship for many, but it's also creating some spectacular ice formations at Niagara Falls. The spectacle is drawing huge crowds on both the Canadian and American side of the border.

The air temperature is so cold that the water and mist coming off the falls is frozen in place. Some of the formations look like massive boulders, others look like long shards of white glass.

According to the Weather Channel, the temperature at Niagara Falls has not gotten above freezing this month. It's expected to be the coldest February on record. Still, the falls can never completely freeze over, there's simply too much water cascading over them. But the continuing cold weather means the icy formations at Niagara Falls will be around for awhile.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
19 Feb 01:02

Momkhana goes drifting with a V8 minivan in the 'burbs

by Chris Bruce
lbstopher

yo mama!

Filed under: Videos, Toyota, United States, Minivan/Van, Performance

Momkhana takes inspiration from the Gymkhana videos, but moves the stunts to the suburbs in a V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive Toyota Sienna that goes drifting to the shoe store.

Continue reading Momkhana goes drifting with a V8 minivan in the 'burbs

Momkhana goes drifting with a V8 minivan in the 'burbs originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 18 Feb 2015 20:02:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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19 Feb 08:23

Why A Court Once Ordered Kids Vaccinated Against Their Parents' Will

by Anders Kelto
lbstopher

Martyrs to the cause?

Why A Court Once Ordered Kids Vaccinated Against Their Parents' Will

Measles is highly contagious, and it produces fever and rash in susceptible people who become infected.

Measles is highly contagious, and it produces fever and rash in susceptible people who become infected.

Hazel Appleton/Health Protection Agency Centre/Science Source

A highly contagious disease was sweeping across the United States. Thousands of children were sick and some were dying. In the midst of this outbreak, health officials did something that experts say had never been done before and hasn't been done since: They forced parents to vaccinate their children.

It sounds like something that would have happened 100 years ago. But this was 1991 — and the disease was measles.

Dr. Robert Ross was deputy health commissioner of the hardest-hit city, Philadelphia, where the outbreak was centered in the Faith Tabernacle Congregation in the northern part of town.

"This church community did not believe in either immunizations or medical care," says Ross, who is now the president of the California Endowment, a private health foundation.

The church ran a school with about 1,000 kids. Ross says that none had been vaccinated. One day, his office got a phone call from a grandparent, saying that a lot of children at the school were sick. They had developed rashes from head to toe and fevers — telltale signs of measles.

Ross and his colleagues approached the church and pleaded with the pastor to allow health officials to examine and immunize the children. But the pastor refused. So Ross and his colleagues went door to door, to church members' homes.

He says that most of the parents were pleasant and cooperative and allowed health officials to enter their homes. Many of the children they saw had measles. Ross says the majority were doing fine, but some were very sick, including an 8-year-old girl.

"[She] was lying on the couch in front of the television, ashen and pale, and with a very rapid respiratory rate. I felt that she may die within hours if we didn't get her to treatment," Ross says.

He went to the family's living room to call a judge, who was on call and ready to issue a court order, requiring any gravely ill children to be taken to a hospital. But as Ross held the phone, the girl's grandmother grabbed his arm and tried to prevent him from dialing.

"She began lecturing me about believing in the power of the Lord," Ross says. "It was a viscerally disturbing episode that left me quite shaken."

Ross eventually reached the judge, and the girl was taken to a local hospital. She survived.

But across the city, hundreds more were sick. So Ross and his colleagues did something unprecedented: They got a court order to force parents at Faith Tabernacle to have their children vaccinated.

Ross says it was the right thing to do, because it was in the best interest of the children. But it was deeply traumatizing to the parents.

"I recall we lined the children up and gave the immunizations, and many of the parents were actually weeping," he says.

The court order had taken a few weeks. By the time the vaccines were administered, the measles outbreak was subsiding in Philadelphia. Only nine children from the church were ultimately vaccinated, and Ross says the intervention probably didn't affect the spread of the disease.

In the end, nine kids across Philadelphia died, including six from Faith Tabernacle. The church is still operating the school today but declined to comment.

Some experts say it's rather surprising that the parents were forced to have their children vaccinated.

"There was a law that protected these church members' right to refuse vaccination on religious ground," says Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

But the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled years earlier that parents cannot deny lifesaving medical treatments to their children for religious reasons. That ruling set a precedent that made it difficult for Faith Tabernacle to find legal representation.

"Even the American Civil Liberties Union, which was perfectly willing to represent an unpopular cause, declined to take the case, because they felt that it was not [the parents'] right to martyr their children to their beliefs," Offit says.

So the question now is this: If there were a similar outbreak today, could the courts force parents to vaccinate their children?

Offit says it's possible. "Were things ever to get as bad, even approaching as bad as things were in Philadelphia in 1991, yes, there are certainly legal remedies to make sure that we can compel parents to protect their children," he says.

Ross, who led the fight against measles in Philadelphia, says health officials must go to great lengths to educate parents about the importance of vaccines. He believes courts should only intervene when parents are clearly putting their children's lives at risk.

"It should be 'break glass in case of emergency,' " he says.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
18 Feb 21:30

9 reasons Finland's schools are so much better than America's

by Libby Nelson
lbstopher

Girls learn metal work so they don't need to go to the mall to buy earrings. This absorbs 22% of American teenage girls' time.

If there's any consensus on education in the US, it could be this: other countries are doing it better. And in the doing-education-better sweepstakes, Finland has long been the cold and snowy standout.

In 2001, the world was stunned when Finland ended up at the top of international rankings after a standardized test administered to students in developed countries. Finland's dominance continued unabated for a decade (although it slipped in 2012). Endless articles, and some books, all have the same basic gist: what can the United States learn from Finland?

Finland might be a popular example because, no matter your general beliefs on education policy, you can find something to back them up. The result turns into a policy wonk buffet — nearly everybody can a policy lesson to learn from Finland's success, or a factor that explains why it isn't replicable in the US. Even if some of those lessons directly contradict each other.

Here are 9 reasons that have been cited to explain Finland's success.

1) Finland's teachers have high status, professional support, and good pay

Becoming a teacher in Finland is hard, but they enjoy more autonomy and professional development. (Shutterstock)

Teachers in Finland with 15 years' experience make about as much as the typical college graduate with a bachelor's degree; in the US, they make less than that. And the workload is also less demanding. Teachers in Finland teach about four hours a day, with another two hours of professional development, and they develop their own curriculum based on a set of national guidelines. The leadership ranks of education are also drawn from former teachers. The result, writes Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish teacher and researcher who has become a one-man promotional machine for the country's schools, is "an inspiring and respectful environment in which teachers work… Parents and authorities regard teachers with the same confidence they do medical doctors. Indeed, Finns trust public schools more than any other public institution, except the police."

American teachers unions point to the high status and professional flexibility for Finnish teachers as something they'd like to have themselves. They also often note that nearly all Finnish teachers are unionized and the unions are relatively powerful. They argue that to improve schools, the US should focus on treating teachers the way Finland does — with more professional support and greater respect — rather than using students' standardized test scores to reward and grade teachers, a trend the Obama administration has encouraged.

2) Finland has more selective and rigorous schools of education

One reason teaching in Finland is prestigious is becoming a teacher isn't easy. Finland, like the US, used to have a large number of teachers' colleges. But in the 1970s, Finland dramatically changed how teachers were trained. Teacher education became the responsibility of the country's eight universities, and teachers are required to earn masters' degrees. It takes five years of teacher education to become a teacher, and only about one in 10 applicants to teacher education programs is accepted. Secondary teachers get a master's degree in the content area they're going to be teaching, and all master's degree recipients have to write a research-based dissertation.

This is the other side of the argument about teaching: education reformers in the US argue that Finnish teachers get more respect because they earn it through a rigorous, selective entry process. The policy lesson they draw isn't that teachers should be treated like they are in Finland — it's that the teacher corps in the US needs to be more like Finland's. Groups like the National Council on Teacher Quality argue that teachers' colleges aren't selective or rigorous enough. About half of all new teachers come from the bottom third of college graduates, as measured by SAT or ACT scores, according to a 2010 McKinsey report.

On the other hand, the fact that Finnish teachers are so intensely trained also appeals to opponents of programs like Teach for America. A popular saying among opponents of the two-year program is that there is no "Teach for Finland," because in Finland, teaching is a lifelong career with a long and rigorous training program.

3) Finland doesn't give standardized tests

(Shutterstock)

The most common praise for Finland (pushed by Sahlberg and others) goes something like this: Finland has no national standardized tests and no rewards or punishments for schools that pass or fail them — and yet they still outperform American students on international exams. Students in Finland take one standardized test at the end of high school. The rest of the time, teachers are responsible for setting expectations and evaluating whether students can meet them. The nation doesn't monitor the quality of schools in any way.

Some people argue that the success of Finnish schools without standardized testing means that testing shouldn't be necessary in the United States, either – and that it's possible for the US to improve its educational performance in other ways.

4) Finland emphasizes subjects other than reading and math

Finnish kids get plenty of recess, more than an hour a day; US kids get less than half an hour. Oh, and students do less than an hour of homework per night all the way through the equivalent of American middle school. Arts and crafts are required — both boys and girls learn needlework, embroidery, and metalwork.

It's not clear how much this has to do with the success of the Finnish school system, but Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University, argued in the New Republic that these subjects allow students to apply science and math skills in the real world. They're also an example of what some parents fear has been lost in the US as teachers spend more time preparing students for standardized tests.

5) Finland has a history of tight oversight for schools

Finland doesn't have a national curriculum now, and Finnish education experts brag about how much autonomy teachers get in the classroom. But that wasn't always the case. In the 1960s and 1970s, Finland totally overhauled its education system. The change to teacher training was part of this, but the country also worked with teachers to develop a mandatory national curriculum and there were national inspections to check on student learning. That tight national control remained in place for two decades, until it was eased up in the 1990s — the national curriculum is now described as being more like guidelines than a tight prescription for what teachers should teach in the classroom.

Unlike the lack of testing, this is a Finnish tradition that American supporters of education reform, particularly standards like the Common Core, embrace. They argue that Finland can only give teachers the autonomy they have now because of the generation of tight oversight that preceded it.

6) It's easier to learn to spell in Finland

(Shutterstock)

This is the most unusual explanation for Finland's success yet. At The Atlantic, Luba Vangelova argues that the difficulties of learning to read and write English are holding American students back because other languages — including Finnish — are more straightforward.

Masha Bell, the vice chair of the English Spelling Society, says that Finnish is phonetically much simpler than English because there aren't dozens of arcane spelling rules and exceptions (i before e except after c, for example) to memorize. Once you know the alphabet and how letter sounds correspond with the written word, learning to read is fairly simple. A study found that in Finnish and other European languages, children can read a list of familiar words after about a year of reading instruction; in English, it took nearly three years.

In other words, Finnish children have an advantage: even though they don't start school until age 7, and even though the Finnish language is very complex for English-speakers to learn, it's relatively easy for native speakers to learn to read and write.

7) Finland has low child poverty and state support for parents

(Shutterstock)

Finland doesn't spend as much on education as the United States. But that overlooks a vast social safety net for families, particularly low-income families, that doesn't exist here, either. Baby Finns start their life with a "baby box" of supplies from the Finnish government. Child care is heavily subsidized, and most children attend some kind of early childhood education before mandatory schooling starts at age 7.

Finland also has one of the lowest child poverty rates in the world, around 5 percent (it's over 20 percent in the US). Parents get a monthly allowance to help them care for their children — 100 euros for the first child and more for additional children. Matt Bruenig at Demos has an overview of Finland's extensive child welfare programs.

Perhaps as a result, Finland has very small gaps between rich and poor students' test scores; in the US, those divides are much bigger. Schools in Finland also offer other services, like dentistry and psychological counseling, according to the OECD. These "wraparound services" are something that teachers' unions argue the United States needs more of — although the attempt to create Finland-style community schools generally hasn't resulted in higher test scores.

8) Finland's schools aren't better — they're just homogenous

Some people argue that Finland's schools aren't actually better — they're just serving a much smaller, much more homogenous population. Finland is tiny — the entire country has just 5.4 million people, fewer than New York City. About 5 percent of its residents are immigrants, much lower than the United States.

Schools in the US where most children aren't poor are actually better than low-poverty school systems in Finland. But high-poverty schools in the US struggle in part because of a toxic legacy of segregation, unequal funding, and unequal opportunity. "For a lot of kids who don't score well on these tests, you go back six generations and you have people in bondage," Jack Schneider, a historian of education, told Vox in October.

Finland, which essentially reinvented its school system from scratch in the second half of the 20th century, has none of that baggage. In some ways, the United States has two school systems — well-funded, high-performing suburban schools serving the middle class, and struggling urban school systems where students are overwhelmingly poor and from disadvantaged backgrounds. While Finland has a few schools educating low-income immigrants with an excellent track record of success (this Smithsonian article features a visit to one), those schools are fewer and farther between than they are in the US.

9) Finland is culturally different

Another thing Finland has a lot of: saunas. (Shutterstock)

This is another version of the "Finland does better because it's Finland" argument — that Finnish society is just different than American society, and that as a result lessons are harder to translate. Finnish adults are among the most literate in the world, and the country's libraries are treasured institutions. That, as much as an easier language to spell, could explain stellar reading results. Finland also doesn't have a school sports culture like the US's. And children are more independent; helicopter parenting is just not really a thing.

There are other differences that influence social policy, but aren't limited to them. Rick Hess, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, is skeptical that Finland can teach the US anything because its society is so different. His list of differences (most tongue-in-cheek) include long winter nights that leave plenty of time for studying and more children in two-parent families.

Finnish test scores dropped in 2012, but the fascination with its education system hasn't faded. The bottom line seems to be that something in Finland is working — but it might be impossible to ever figure out what.

18 Feb 13:00

Houston just dramatically improved its mass transit system without spending a dime

by Matthew Yglesias
lbstopher

the wheels on the bus go...to places I want to go

While it's fun to write about bad transit projects, it's also nice to see that sometimes great transit projects get put into place. The recent "reimagining" of Houston's bus network — officially approved on February 11 — is a great example of doing things the right way, drastically increasing the utility of the city's bus fleet for most people without incurring any increase in operating costs.

This handy slider lets you compare the old frequent bus route network with the new frequent bus route network:

The new one is, plainly, much more extensive and broadly useful. With it, a person willing to make a transfer can get from most areas of the city to most other areas of the city without needing to rely on any extremely infrequent buses.

How is Houston able to pull that off with no additional funding? Well, as Jarrett Walker, one of the plan's lead designers, explains it's all about prioritizing rides that will plausibly attract riders. The old system, like many bus routes in the United States, expended a lot of resources on very low-ridership routes for the sake of saying there's "a bus that goes there." The new plan says that the focus should be to provide reasonably frequent service on routes where reasonably frequent service will attract riders. That does mean that some people are further than ever from a transit stop. But it means that many more Houstonians will find themselves near a useful transit stop.

Focusing transit planning on the goal of promoting transit services that are actually used strikes me as common sense. But it's also the best way to create a virtuous circle of sound urban planning and transportation management. A system with a lot of riders is a system with a lot of advocates for expansion and improvement.

Houston's ability to make things so much better without spending money is amazing, but sometimes more money really is needed. Having a system that is used by more people and that is spending the money it already has in a responsible way can build support for getting that money when it's needed. A system that promotes ridership also helps create a city whose electorate contains more people who don't rely on cars for every trip and who can conceivably lobby for sensible parking reforms and other sound urbanist measures.

17 Feb 23:18

PFLAG China's Video Urging People To Embrace Their Queer Children Goes Viral: WATCH

by Charles Pulliam-Moore
lbstopher

7 minute video. gently done.

Screenshot 2015-02-16 18.35.11

Much like Thanksgiving here in the West, the Lunar New Year is a time for many of those celebrating to reconnect and gather with their families. In celebration of the Lunar New Year, PFLAG China has released a short film entitled "Coming Home" celebrating parents that have accepted their queer children for who they are.

The Hollywood Reporter notes that the film has already garnered over 100 million online views.

Though China as a country has steadily made incremental progress in its treatment of its LGBT population, a significant portion of the population and most of the Chinese government holds true to traditions and policies that discourage queer people from coming out.

"Coming Home" tells the story of an openly gay man who returns to be with his family years after they initially rejected him for coming out. In the past few days the film’s popularity spiked hundreds of thousands of people shared it via QQ Live, a Chinese video-based social networking platform.

"Be brave and be yourself,” one of the mothers featured in the film implored to those watching. “Tell your parents your experiences, and we will share with you."

Watch PFLAG China’s "Coming Home" here AFTER THE JUMP...

Screenshot 2015-02-16 18.36.31

 

 

16 Feb 14:10

John Ioannidis has dedicated his life to quantifying how science is broken

by Julia Belluz

Medical research is in bad shape. Fraud, bias, sloppiness, and inefficiency are everywhere, and we now have studies that quantify the size of the problem.

We know that about $200 billion — or the equivalent of 85 percent of global spending on research — is routinely wasted on poorly designed and redundant studies. We know that as much as 30 percent of the most influential original medical research papers later turn out to be wrong or exaggerated. We also know that a lot of medical evidence is contradictory and unreliable, such as those studies that purport to show that just about every food we eat either causes or prevents cancer.

(Courtesy of John Ioannidis)

What all this means, says Stanford University professor Dr. John Ioannidis, is that most published research findings are false.

If medical research is hopelessly flawed, Ioannidis is the superhero poised to save it. For the past two decades, the physician-academic has used meta-research — or research on research — to document the ways science veers away from the truth by way of bias, error, and outright fraud. (He was involved in most all the research cited above.)

He says he lives by the motto, "Advancing excellence in science." If he had a villain, it would be the broken information architecture of medicine.

He even has a mythical origin story. He was raised in Greece, the home of Pythagoras and Euclid, by physician-researchers who instilled in him a love of mathematics. By seven, he quantified his affection for family members with a "love numbers" system. ("My mother was getting 1,024.42," he said. "My grandmother, 173.73.") By 19, he won the Greek Mathematical Society's national award. He graduated at the top of his University of Athens School of Medicine class at 25, and it wasn't before long that The Atlantic called him "one of the most influential scientists alive."

Ioannidis, who now co-directs the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford, has received much of this acclaim for applying his mathematical powers to measure how and where science goes wrong. In his seminal paper, "Why Most Published Research Findings are False," he developed a mathematical model to show how flawed the  research process is. Researchers run badly designed and biased experiments, too often focusing on sensational and unlikely theories instead of ones that are likely to be plausible, and ultimately distorting the evidence base — and what we think we know to be true in fields like health care and medicine.

When that paper was first published, in 2005, it stirred controversy. Scientists didn't want to accept the dismal state of affairs Ioannidis was describing. Now, ten years have passed and Vox caught up with Ioannidis to talk about what has happened since: the problems in research today, how you guard against bad science, and the implications of his work for the "evidence-based medicine" movement, which is the push for doctors to start applying the best-available science to medical practice instead of just going by what they learned in medical schools or the opinions of authority figures. He also shared his foray into writing experimental literature, and how it sustains his creativity as a researcher.

The legacy of "Why Most Published Research Findings are False"

Julia Belluz: Ten years ago, you published the paper, "Why Most Published Research Findings are False." It caused a controversy then, and has since become the single most-cited and downloaded research paper in the history of the journal PLoS Medicine, where it was published. Why do you think the paper took on such a life of its own?

John Ioannidis: The title might have contributed to its popularity, I am not sure. However, I think that paper gained in popularity relatively slowly over time. It wasn’t a major hit when it first appeared. Some people noticed it and thought it was very interesting. But in a way it gained momentum over time as more colleagues were realizing there’s potentially more to that. It was a paper I enjoyed a lot working on. When I was writing it, I was really excited about it – hopefully I am not just affected by serious recall bias here. I had been thinking about that paper for quite a long time and some of the ideas that feed into it had occupied me for a decade. When I wrote the first complete version, putting these thoughts together, I was on a little island in Greece called Sikinos. I remember writing, and feeling that things were falling into place somehow.

Julia Belluz: The paper was a theoretical model. How does it now match with the empirical evidence we have on how science is broken?

John Ioannidis: There are now tons of empirical studies on this. One field that probably attracted a lot of attention is preclinical research on drug targets, for example, research done in academic labs on cell cultures, trying to propose a mechanism of action for drugs that can be developed. There are papers showing that, if you look at a large number of these studies, only about 10 to 25 percent of them could be reproduced by other investigators. Animal research has also attracted a lot of attention and has had a number of empirical evaluations, many of them showing that almost everything that gets published is claimed to be "significant". Nevertheless, there are big problems in the designs of these studies, and there’s very little reproducibility of results. Most of these studies don’t pan out when you try to move forward to human experimentation.

Even for randomized controlled trials [considered the gold standard of evidence in medicine and beyond] we have empirical evidence about their modest replication. We have data suggesting only about half of the trials registered [on public databases so people know they were done] are published in journals. Among those published, only about half of the outcomes the researchers set out to study are actually reported. Then half — or more — of the results that are published are interpreted inappropriately, with spin favoring preconceptions of sponsors’ agendas. If you multiply these levels of loss or distortion, even for randomized trials, it’s only a modest fraction of the evidence that is going to be credible.

(Shutterstock)

How to fix the problems in scientific research

Julia Belluz: How do you guard against bad science?

John Ioannidis: We need scientists to very specifically be able to filter [bad] studies. We need better peer review at multiple levels. Currently we have peer review done by a couple of people who get the paper and maybe they spend a couple of hours on it. Usually they cannot analyze the data because the data are not available – well, even if they were, they would not have time to do that. We need to find ways to improve the peer review process and think about new ways of peer review.

Recently there’s increasing emphasis on trying to have post-publication review. Once a paper is published, you can comment on it, raise questions or concerns. But most of these efforts don’t have an incentive structure in place that would help them take off. There’s also no incentive for scientists or other stakeholders to make a very thorough and critical review of a study, to try to reproduce it, or to probe systematically and spend real effort on re-analysis. We need to find ways people would be rewarded for this type of reproducibility or bias checks.

Julia Belluz: Doesn’t this require basically restructuring the whole system of science?

John Ioannidis: These are open questions, I don’t have the answers. Currently we have a couple of time points where studies get reviewed. Some studies get reviewed at a funding level, and the review may not be very scientific. Many focus on the promises of significance here, and scientists have to overpromise. There’s review at the stage of the manuscript, which seems to be pretty suboptimal. So if you think about where should we intervene, maybe it should be in designing and choosing study questions and designs, and the ways that these research questions should be addressed, maybe even guiding research — promoting team science, large collaborative studies rather than single investigators with independent studies — all the way to the post-publication peer review.

Julia Belluz: If you were made science czar, what would you fix first?

John Ioannidis: I wouldn’t have a punitive approach to research. Research is really wonderful. It’s the best thing that has happened to human beings. We need research. We need science. We need better methods of doing things. A lot of the time we know what these methods are but we don’t implement them.

Maybe what we need is to change is the incentive and reward system in a way that would reward the best methods and practices. Currently we reward the wrong things: people who submit grant proposals and publish papers that make extravagant claims. That’s not what science is about. If we align our incentive and rewards in a way that gives credibility to good methods and science, maybe this is the way to make progress.

Julia Belluz: Who is supposed to be the final arbiter in science — to stop scientists from going in the wrong direction?

John Ioannidis: It’s not an issue of finding a dictator. We need empirical data. We need research on research. Such empirical data has started accruing. We have a large number of scientists who want to perform research on research, and they are generating very important insights on how research is applied or misapplied. Then we need more meta-research on interventions, how to change things. If something is not working very well, it doesn’t mean that if we adopt something different that will certainly make things better. These are questions that our new center at Stanford, METRICS, is trying to address.

Julia Belluz: In light of all these issues with science, how would you reform how scientists are educated?

John Ioannidis: I think that one major gap is exactly education. Most scientists in biomedicine and other fields are mostly studying subject matter topics; they learn about subject matter rather than methods. I think that several institutions are slowly recognizing the need to shift back to methods and how to make a scientist better equipped in study design, understanding biases, in realizing the machinery of research rather than the technical machinery.

Julia Belluz: Has anything gotten better in the last ten years in terms of improving the quality of science?

John Ioannidis: There’s been a shift to more solutions-oriented approaches to these problems. I can’t say one field has done better than all the others, but some fields have adopted practices that can make a difference. Genomics, for example, uses replication for replicating discoveries. In medicine, randomized trials have improved their registration patterns over time so that they don’t go missing. Psychology or behavioral science researchers started wondering about the need to perform replication in the last several years. So we’ve started seeing replication, which was almost unheard of in the past. Empirical economics started moving toward adoption of experimental randomized controlled trials much like the social sciences. Ten years ago, there was very little in terms of randomized controlled trials in these fields.

Julia Belluz: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the direction science is going in?

John Ioannidis: I am optimistic. I think that science is making progress. There’s no doubt about that. It’s just an issue of how much and how quickly.

(Shutterstock)

The source of Ioannidis’s creativity

Julia Belluz: You’re known for being extremely creative in your research. One of my favorite studies of yours involved randomly choosing 50 ingredients from recipes in the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook and then looking at whether the ingredients were associated with an increased or decreased risk of cancer. What’s your process like?

John Ioannidis: It’s chaotic. I try to be systematic in whatever I do, but I think that it’s very difficult to describe a single process. I am very happy to learn from colleagues, to hear what they have to say, to brainstorm with them. The work I have done has benefited tremendously from interacting with lots of scientists. I think, if I’m ignorant in biomedicine, then I’m even more ignorant in other fields, I need to learn from others. The major challenge and even biggest opportunity is to get scientists working in different fields to communicate and share their experiences. Some fields are far ahead of others in some aspects. An important step forward is to take these advances and transplant them efficiently in other fields.

Julia Belluz: What do you read in your spare time?

John Ioannidis: I’m literally buried under hundreds and thousands of books at home. I love having books around me. In my reading, I am also pretty chaotic. Right now, I’m reading Beautiful Evidence by Edward Tufte, The Forgotten Man: A new history of the Great Depression, Tuscan Art in the Middle Ages, Memoirs of the Crusades.

One of my main biases is that I also write literature myself. I write in Greek. My writing can probably best be described as experimental. It can use mixed techniques of contemporary literature, beyond traditional poetry or poetic prose, including short stories, travelogue, stream of consciousness, scientific data, Google searches, biography, tabulations, essay, text reconstruction, computerized cloud construction, and more – along with references from history, music, visual arts, and past literature. My latest book was published a few months ago in Athens. The previous one had been a finalist for the best book award of the year in Greece. I’m really very excited about literature. I’m working on an English version of my latest book at the moment.

Julia Belluz: What themes do you address in your fiction?

John Ioannidis: The title of the latest book is Variations on the Art of the Fugue and a Desperate Ricercar. "The Art of the Fugue" was the last work of J.S. Bach and the one before last was the "Musical Offering", a work that ends in a ricercar, a composition that is complementary to a fugue. Ricercar also has the same root as ricerca which means research. The heroes of the book are "researchers" at multiple levels, ranging from people who search their memory to researchers of the natural world and discoverers who cannot satisfy their appetites for discovery and its validation. They are also fugitives, people in exile or self-exile in a crumbling world, where homes, cities and civilizations are disrupted and abandoned. So, you can think of desperate "research" by desperate but determined "researchers".

Julia Belluz: How long have you been writing fiction? When do you find time to do it?

John Ioannidis: Since I was eight, but hopefully my writing has improved since then! I was always very much interested in literature. It is a balancing act. Obviously I do get lots of stimulation from my scientific work, and some of that unavoidably will spill over to the literature work, some of the themes may have some overlap between the two. It’s something that is quite different and complementary to science.

I write anytime. It’s interesting that it can alternate [between the science and literature]. I could be on a plane, and work on writing a scientific paper and switch gear and start writing some text, and then go back to another scientific paper.

Julia Belluz: How does your literature feed your science, and vice versa?

John Ioannidis: Even the title of the book has research embedded into it. Some of the ideas in my literature pertain to science and its reliability but seen from a different perspective: the search for evidence and the realization of its limitations, our inability to predict the future and our even greater inability to predict the past which constantly gets re-interpreted and re-constructed. Literature allows me to express myself in ways that would not be possible to do with scientific papers. Scientific papers have a very rigorous way of defining questions, introduction, methods, results, discussion. There’s little leeway to deviate from that. In literature, one can take different paths and develop structures that go beyond that.

Julia Belluz: How did literature inspire you as you wrote "Why Most Published Research Findings are False"?

John Ioannidis: This paper is not to be seen in isolation. Some of my literature writing pertains to the feelings, perspectives, and even frustrations I had at about the same time. If someone wanted to see what was going on in my mind, the experimental literature that I was writing during that time are probably more informative than any of the scientific papers, which seem more fixed and objective. I was seeing lots of these biases in my everyday academic life. I could see those in real life rather than just in abstract terms where you just see what is published and polished. You see how the scientific community is working, how it’s performing its job for good or bad, and that leads you to some questioning. Also the rather atypical structure of the [that] paper may have benefited from my quest of new types of structure in literature.

16 Feb 17:00

This is the ultimate semi-arbitrary ranking of American presidents

by Matthew Yglesias
lbstopher

I did not remember seeing Presidential Rankings in Yorba Linda at the Nixon Library...

It's President's Day! Perhaps America's least distinguished holiday, but an excellent time for lists. Specifically lists of presidents. The cohorts are more important than the ordinal rankings here.

The all-time greats

These are the guys who steered the country through times of crisis and let it endure and improve. George Washington established the tradition of republican governance and peaceful transfers of power. Lincoln prevented the country from literally collapsing. And Roosevelt preserved democracy at a troubled time through his decisive rescue of the economy, and then led the country to victory in the Second World War.

1. George Washington

2. Abraham Lincoln

3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The good ones

These presidents created major elements of the American welfare state, forged its foreign policy tradition, and turned the state from an enemy into an ally in the fight for racial justice.

4. Ulysses Grant

5. John Adams

6. Harry Truman

7. Dwight Eisenhower

8. George H.W. Bush

9. Lyndon Johnson

10. Barack Obama

They did fine

These are your run of the mill presidents. Some of them are very well-regarded because of an economic boom, while others are held in low regard due to poor economic performance. Some are obscure and some are famous. But all basically left the country in the same fundamental shape that they found it.

11. Theodore Roosevelt

12. Bill Clinton

13. Warren Harding

14. William McKinley

15. Thomas Jefferson

16. James Monroe

17. John Quincy Adams

18. James Madison

19. William Howard Taft

20. Zachary Taylor

21. Gerald Ford

22. Jimmy Carter

23. Calvin Coolidge

24. Chester A. Arthur

25. Benjamin Harrison

26. Grover Cleveland

27. Rutherford B. Hayes

28. Martin Van Buren

29. John F. Kennedy

30. John Tyler

Very consequential, not always in good ways

These are guys who in terms of pure "greatness" should clearly rank above the earlier cohort of presidents. Big things happened under their watch, and if I liked the big things that they did I would consider them great presidents.

31. Ronald Reagan

32. Woodrow Wilson

33. Andrew Jackson

34. James K. Polk

Incomplete

These guys died really soon after taking office. Harrison has at least been granted the dignity of famously dying really quickly. Garfield's six-month span in office before being assassinated is simply forgotten. Getting shot and killed by a patronage-hungry office-seeker actually helped inspire an important civil service reform in the next administration, but it's hard to give a guy credit for getting shot.

35. William Henry Harrison

36. James A. Garfield

Laid the groundwork for civil war

From 1850 to 1860 the country was governed by a series of three presidents whose big idea was to forestall civil war by appeasing the South and buttressing the institution of slavery. It was immoral and it didn't work.

37. Millard Fillmore

38. Franklin Pierce

39. James Buchanan

True, epic disasters

In different ways, these three presidents all managed to totally wreck the economy. Nixon's inflation wasn't as bad as the other two, but he gets extra demerits for also shredding the constitution.

40. George W. Bush

41. Herbert Hoover

42. Richard Nixon

The worst

Jamelle Bouie has a good piece on this, but basically Johnson's deep-seated commitment to white supremacy ended up giving back a huge share of what had been accomplished during the Civil War.

43. Andrew Johnson

15 Feb 16:12

Correction Of The Day

by Joe Jervis
lbstopher

Totally different!

26 Jan 08:30

Learn to Count like an Egyptian

by Evelyn Lamb
lbstopher

i bet 1/2+1/6 of you won't even click through to read this.

Last semester, I began my math history class with some Babylonian arithmetic. The mathematics we were doing was easy—multiplying and adding numbers, solving quadratic equations by completing the...

-- Read more on ScientificAmerican.com
13 Feb 21:11

The Best Worst Graphic Ever

by Rob Tisinai
lbstopher

Wait, they actually thought it was promoting their POV? Bless their dear hearts.

I recently saw an anti-gay graphic on JoeMyGod that excels so thoroughly at destroying its own message it feels like the best worst graphic ever.  I’m an instructional designer and a big part of my job is creating direct, clear, effective messaging, so I felt compelled, almost as a professional exercise, to analyze what makes it so perfectly disastrous. This is probably just for my fellow geeks, nerds, and dorks, but have a look at this masterpiece.

SanctityALFB_small Most people, when they first look at this, absorb the photos before the headlines or captions. Pictures have more immediacy than long word-strings. Pictures, in fact, distract from words. I recall a study that showed students learning about lightning actually retained less knowledge when the lesson’s verbal description was accompanied by pretty lightning pictures. The pictures split their attention and decreased their ability to focus on words. Pictures are only effective when they reinforce and add to the basic message.

And if you take away the words, what message do these pictures send? That anti-gay protesters today are eerily reminiscent of anti-black protesters from generations ago. In fact, if you couldn’t read speak English you’d probably assume the graphic is a huge slam at the foes of marriage equality. I could stop there, because nothing else matters — the picture has made its point — but let’s continue.

Suppose the viewers, now primed with a pro-equality message, move on to the words.  A few appear bigger than the rest, so their eyes first notice this:

  • In 1963 and In 2015
  • Civil Rights and Moral
  • Alabama and Alabama

The message for the primed reader is clear:

  • 1963 is like 2015
  • Civil Rights are a Moral issue
  • Alabama is, once again, acting like Alabama

In each case the typography reinforces the pictorial message. It even points out the flaw in the intended message, which seems to want to set up a distinction between civil rights and morality — as if civil rights weren’t a moral issue, as if they were separate things — but ends up graphically doing just the opposite.

What about the rest of each headline? The meat doesn’t come until the end of each, with the words right and wrong (which aren’t just at the end, but aren’t even emphasized!). Furthermore, wrong is in a gray that fades into the black/white/gray of the picture. Not that we need typographic help to minimize that message. A simple rule is this: the more words you toss onto an image, the less power those words have. The graphic designer is in constant battle with the viewer’s attention span and myriad distractions, so drowning a graphic in a flood of text is a good way to ensure the text isn’t read.

But let’s soldier on and imagine viewers haven’t already skipped to the next post in their Facebook feed. A primed reader will find the headlines nonsensical — or at least counter-intuitive — and the rest of the text helps none at all. The Bible verses on the left side affirm our common humanity, and now seem like condemnations not just of racism but of homophobia, too. Viewers who start on the left and move to the right will thus be further primed to reject the anti-gay verses there as bigoted, or more charitably, as archaic and irrelevant. All this culminates in the sentence at the very bottom, which now seems to declare that opponents of marriage equality aren’t just abandoning the right side of history, but are violating God’s Law as well.

Not that most viewers will go through a careful analysis. Instead, all this will be synthesized into one simple and unintended message:

These people are idiots, too dim to realize how dim they are.

And by “these people” I mean those in the left pic, those on the right, and those who created the graphic as well. That’s catastrophic. Researchers have found that when people are confronted with a difficult question, they opt out by substituting an easier question in its place. For instance, instead of asking, What are the moral cases for and against same-sex marriage?, they’ll divert to Which group do I want to be part of?

And nobody want to be part of the idiots.


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06 Feb 03:00

Seeing an avalanche form right before your eyes is absolutely terrifying

by Casey Chan

Seeing an avalanche form right before your eyes is absolutely terrifying

The ground just starts cracking right in front of the snowboarder. I mean, what do you even do when the ground fractures and the snow murmurs and life glitches like that? What do you do when you have two seconds to realize you're screwed and to come up with a plan to unscrew yourself? You can't do anything, really.

Read more...








13 Feb 12:59

Police in England using unmarked semi to catch texting drivers

by Chris Bruce
lbstopher

awesome

Filed under: Government/Legal, Weird Car News, UK, Truck, Commercial Vehicles, Police/Emergency

Motorists in England have one more way to worry about getting stopped by the police this spring. The cops are using an unmarked semi to look down on drivers and check for any offenses, like using a cell phone or texting.

Continue reading Police in England using unmarked semi to catch texting drivers

Police in England using unmarked semi to catch texting drivers originally appeared on Autoblog on Fri, 13 Feb 2015 07:59:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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12 Feb 16:20

Listen to one of the victims of the Chapel Hill shooting explain her love for America

by German Lopez

Yusor Abu-Salha, one of the three students killed in a Tuesday night shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, had just months earlier recorded an interview with StoryCorps, in which she described her profound love for America and the experience of growing up Muslim-American.

North Carolina Public Radio posted part of the conversation on Thursday, following the death of Abu-Salha, who was 21, and two other young students, all Muslim:

"Growing up in America has been such a blessing," Abu-Salha said, acknowledging that she still stands out because of the hijab she wears on her head. "There's still so many ways that I feel so embedded in the fabric that is our culture. That's the beautiful thing here." She added, "It doesn't matter where you come from. There's so many different people from so many different places of different backgrounds and religions. But here we're all one — one culture."

After the shooting that killed Abu-Salha, her husband, and her sister, the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter went viral on social media as people voiced why they were so alarmed by the attack and the lack of attention it initially received from major media outlets. The hashtag is a reference to #BlackLivesMatter, which came about after the August 9 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The hashtag isn't just about the Chapel Hill shooting, but about the broader double standard many Muslims feel they face in American society: if the religion of the shooter and victims had been reversed, the story would have received considerably more attention and much more quickly — and it would have likely been labeled an act of terrorism before the facts of the shooting were even clear. But since the identities weren't reversed, those issues didn't register into the national conversation and media coverage. The shooting barely registered at all.

13 Feb 15:00

You Know Who You Are

by BD

You-know-who-you-are...

13 Feb 14:20

Listen to a Catchy Mashup of Beck’s ‘Loser’ and Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’

by Sarene Leeds
lbstopher

take that, Kanye

A SoundCloud user put together a surprisingly catchy mashup of Beck and Beyonce called "Single Loser (Put a Beck on It)," by "Beckyoncé."
12 Feb 13:00

Seen At San Diego International

by Joe Jervis
The above sign can be seen at San Diego International Airport across from the Virgin America gates. Photo by Mario Inchiosa.
12 Feb 00:01

Forget the Police, an Angry Civilian Ends This Car Chase

lbstopher

Don't you go hitting my minivan!

Forget the cops, the woman who got rear-ended in this ridiculous police chase knows how to take things down.

Submitted by: (via Kent Garrison)

Tagged: chase , BAMF , Video , police
11 Feb 12:40

Human brain size compared to animals’

by Nathan Yau
lbstopher

and as we get more and more obese, the marmosets stretch their lead.

Brain size

Mosaic provides a simple comparison of brain size in a handful of animals so that you can compare to the average human. Select among several measures such as actual weigh, percent of body mass, or number of neurons. These measures don't seem to say much about smarts.

Absolute brain size clearly isn't what really matters, otherwise people would be cognitive pygmies compared to whales and elephants. But brain size relative to body size doesn't seem to be a particularly informative measure either. Marmosets — diminutive monkeys that are not thought to be among the brightest of primates — have brains that tip the scales at around 2.7 per cent of body mass, easily beating our own 2.0 per cent.

However, there are measurements that seem to matter.

Tags: animals, brain

12 Feb 00:20

Ford pranks unsuspecting blind dates with Mustang GT and stunt driver

by Jonathon Ramsey
lbstopher

Let's go for a ride!

Filed under: Humor, Marketing/Advertising, Videos, Ford, Coupe, Performance

Ford adds another definition to the phrase "speed dating" when it uses a professional stunt driver to take a few unsuspecting first dates on a smoky-tire ride in the 2015 Mustang.

Continue reading Ford pranks unsuspecting blind dates with Mustang GT and stunt driver

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11 Feb 23:21

Physics Valentines

lbstopher

click through. mouseovers are AWESOME

February 8, 2015

Washington Post

He shared the Nobel Prize for detecting a breakdown in the overarching symmetry of physical laws.

February 6, 2015

NBC News

Europe's giant particle accelerator at CERN has been getting an overhaul.

January 30, 2015

New York Times

Now a new joint analysis confirmed that there is no convincing evidence of gravitational waves.

11 Feb 21:18

If You Aren’t Rich by 45, Give Up

by Jordan Weissmann
lbstopher

I'll say goodbye to my next raise, I guess.

Life may begin at 40, according to any number of Hallmark cards, but by 45, your chances of ever landing a major raise are pretty much dead. At least, that's one of the many takeaways from a recent paper by a group of Federal Reserve researchers in Minneapolis and New York, who used a massive trove of Social Security Administration data dating back to 1978 to analyze how men's earnings evolve over time.

For the rich and poor alike, the economists found that "the bulk of earnings growth" happens in the first 10 years of work, typically between the ages of 25 and 35. During the next decade of their career, men can expect smaller raises overall. After 45, those in the bottom 90 percent of lifetime earners see their earnings decline as a group, in part because people often start cutting back their hours around that time, especially if they do manual labor for a living. Meanwhile, even 1 percenters only see relatively minor pay bumps after middle age.

For the visually inclined, here are those trends graphed. On the x-axis, you have where each man falls on the income distribution based on his lifetime earnings. On the y-axis, you have earnings increases during each decade of life. Again, note that most of the growth happens during the first 10 years in the working world (the blue line).  

Here's another, perhaps simpler, way of looking at the trend, from a related paper released earlier this year based on the same dataset. For the super-rich (0.1 percent), rich (1 percent), and the rest (99 percent), income basically plateaus after the early-40s.  

Of course, we're only talking about averages. There are people out there who have late-age renaissances and start earning like never before. But most of us are not Louis C.K. We set up our careers by our mid-30s, either by working up through the ranks of a company or going to school to position ourselves for a pay bump once we have our fancy degree. By middle age, we pretty much are what we are, professionally. Or, as Schopenhauer supposedly said: "The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary."

Via the Washington Post's Danielle Paquette

11 Feb 21:08

Smartphones Are as Good at Fitness Tracking as Wearables, Study Finds

by Lily Hay Newman
lbstopher

Not sure I want my phone on me when I am playing volleyball.

Wearable fitness trackers have been touted as the best way to monitor your activity and health. And it feels like they’re everywhere. But a new study in JAMA indicates that the fundamental calculation done by most wearables—a record of step taken—can actually be computed just as accurately by your smartphone, if not more so. 

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania had 14 healthy adults walk on a treadmill for 500 or 1,500 steps and then do it again. During each of their walks, the participants were wearing one pedometer and two accelerometers on their waistbands, and three popular types of wearables on their wrists. They also had two smartphones, one in each pants pocket, running a total of four fitness tracking apps. The participants’ steps were also being independently counted to verify that they took the exact correct number during each trial.

The smartphones were fairly close to the correct step counts—within about 6.7 percent—whereas the wearables varied more widely. Some were extremely close, and others were off by as much as 22.7 percent.

“Since step counts are such an important part of how these devices and apps measure physical activity, including calculating distance or calories burned, their accuracy is key,” said senior researcher Mitesh Patel in a press release.

He pointed out that while fitness trackers are still relatively niche, a majority of the adult population in the United States carries smartphones. “Our findings suggest that smartphone apps could prove to be a more widely accessible and affordable way of tracking health behaviors,” he said.

Smartphones aren’t always convenient to have on you. They don’t necessarily fit in pockets, especially women’s pockets, and they aren’t as rugged as wearables are meant to be. By and large they also can’t do more specialized tracking for things like heart rate. But if shelling out a few hundred bucks for a fitness tracker doesn’t sound appealing, you might already have a decent alternative.