Friday, February 24, 2017

How Bad "Science" Happens

The BBC reports scientists have difficulty replicating the findings of their peers. Explanation of what constitutes "replication": read the study, follow the exact same methodology using the same measures, calculate the results using the same statistical methods. Supposedly find the same results.

The problem? Much too often, replication attempts fail - they don't get the same results. How can this be true, is it crookedness? Sure, sometime it is simple cheating, fudging the data to get the desired results.

Most of the time it is probably not dishonest. Let me explain two ways it happens. Begin with the understanding that the only research which gets published is that which finds "positive results." In other words, that finds the hypothesized results.

So-called "negative results" don't get published, as a grad school mentor explained to me, because you can't tell whether the failure to find hypothesized results really means the hypotheses are false or that in some way the methods used to measure them were faulty.

So ... scientists run many more experiments than ever get published, because they often find no support for their hypotheses. Lots of studies find not much of anything, and get tossed.

The way we know if differences are "real" is if statistically they are strong enough to be likely to occur by chance only one time in twenty. Another way of saying this is that every 20 studies which tested nonsense hypotheses produce perhaps one with results that look good, that appear to prove the bad hypotheses.

Guess how many of these supposedly "good" (but actually bad) findings are submitted for publication. Answer: nearly all. It is likely they cannot be replicated.

Remember the old comment about a zillion monkeys pounding a zillion typewriters? Somewhere one will reproduce significant chunks of Shakespeare quite by accident. Does that mean the lucky monkey is a genius? Not nearly.

The other problem leading to non-replicability is data mining. Data mining happens when researchers gather a whole bunch of data, skim through it looking for "significant" relationships between variables.

They post hoc dream up hypotheses which those significant relationships might explain. Except when they write it up, they claim to have had the hypotheses first and then tested them, finding the results in the write-up. Unfortunately, significant relationships can occur randomly, or result from obscure causes never imagined by those writing up the "science."

Left Hurting in Ecuador

Bloomberg View reports the leftist ruling party in Ecuador, headed for years by Rafael Correa, didn't win a majority in recent elections, meaning a runoff is likely. This, in spite of the usual leftist finagling with press freedoms, election rules, etc. aimed at crippling alternative parties.

We don't know, of course, whether Correa's Alianza Pais will eventually win the runoff. Even if they do, a message of dissatisfaction has been sent. The other candidate in the runoff looks to be a market-friendly conservative not unlike the recent winner in Argentina.

These are interesting times, down south.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Demographics Not Destiny

The Washington Post carries a column by two think-tank scholars on the reasons demographics haven't sealed the deal for Democrats, for they demonstrably have not. See what they write:
Our report out this month provides several answers, starting with the fact that demographic change isn’t evenly dispersed. In our system of place-based government, unless millennials move to the rural South or the growing Latino population settles in equal measure across the Rust Belt, demography will take a long time.

Despite Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote victory, Donald Trump won about 2,600 counties while she won 489. That might have been enough to keep the electoral college tally close, but it’s also a recipe for losing pretty much everything down ballot.

Young voters and voters of color aren’t monolithic liberal blocs who will always and reflexively support Democrats. As noted in our report, 44 percent of millennials call themselves independents and only 30 percent are liberals. Among Latinos, 37 percent are Independents and only 28 percent liberals. That means 7 in 10 within these rising American electorate groups consider themselves moderate or even conservative.

Democrats need to dig themselves out of a big hole from state legislative races on up, and it starts by treating voters as more than a check box on a census form. It will require building a big-tent coalition based on values and experiences, not just demographic groups, and rethinking the party’s pitch and policies to respond to the needs and concerns of Americans across the country, not just in cities and on coasts.
People, like the proverbial "birds of a feather," persist in flocking together with others like themselves. Therefore, pitches which pit one demographic group against another tend to be geographically limited.

Historically, what has proven helpful for subgroups in the U.S, is assimilation, not separation. Unfortunately, assimilation is not politically correct at present.

Many Hispanics and Asians are well along that time-tested path to complete acceptance. In general, groups which reject assimilation are not.

Crime Rates

The Wonkblog at The Washington Post writes that while Americans believe crime is increasing, it is actually lower than previously. No reasons were given for this decline.

A perhaps temporary exception to the decline is the rising murder rate, which it argues is maybe just normal fluctuation (i.e., "noise" in statistics-speak). I'm unconvinced, as is our President. The nearly-every-weekend "butcher's bill" from Chicago tends to focus our attention on urban, gang-related shootings.

Thinking about causes, one reason for the decline in overall crime rates is the aging of our population. Crime is mostly associated with the young, fewer young = fewer crimes.

One reason immigrants are often associated with crime is that, on balance, immigrants are younger than the rest of us. Of course, it is also true that a criminal past in whatever country they're fleeing can be a motive to emigrate.

It is unfortunate more of our criminals don't seek to emigrate; perhaps it is a behavior we should encourage, even facilitate. We'd rather they became someone else's problem, see the post about Gov. Walker below.

Walker Leads

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker lacked the charisma to be a successful presidential candidate in 2016, but he has gubernatorial accomplishments to be envied. The Washington Examiner writes Walker has rediscovered an ancient truth.
Wisconsin has cut taxes by more than $4.7 billion. More people are working than ever before and Wisconsin's labor force participation rate of just over 68 percent is one of the highest in America.

Walker's policy priorities have inspired others. Right-to-work laws have already been signed into law in Missouri and Kentucky this year.

Now he's focusing his attention on another critical, yet broken, system: welfare.

As part of his executive budget, Walker is proposing an expansion of work requirements to able-bodied adults with school-age children on food stamps. In addition, he calls for extending these work requirements to childless adults on Medicaid and pursuing a pilot program to implement work requirements for able-bodied adults in public housing.
Bottom line: Make people work for their welfare and many will choose actual jobs instead. Give them "free money" and watch them choose idleness because you allow it.

B.F. Skinner demonstrated many decades ago that, to put it crudely, "you get more of the behaviors you reward." Reward idleness, it continues. Reward work but not idleness, see less idleness going forward.

Perhaps to some degree, Walker's reforms have encouraged the determinedly idle to move to other, less demanding states. From the point of view of the Wisconsin tax payers who voted for Walker, that's no bad thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Intent on Looting

Hillsdale College historian Paul Rahe, quoted by Steven Hayward who blogs at Power Line, on the subject of "social justice."
Justice is owed individuals, not groups. There is no such thing as ‘social justice.’ The phrase is a slogan used by those intent on looting.
Hillsdale accepts no Federal funds whatsoever and is not therefore bound to follow its SJW dictates.

Dam Gossip

We've commented recently about Oroville Dam in Northern California, the full one with the disintegrating spillway. Let me pass along what honesty demands I characterize as "gossip" thereabouts.

A shirttail relative/friend writes that the wife of his good friend worked for the designers of said defective spillway. She reports they left recommended steel rebar out of the concrete structure's design because it was "too expensive."

Anybody who has done concrete knows it is brittle without rebar, much tougher with. The informant assumes that the vibratory pounding of thousands of tons of falling water pulverized the concrete like a jackhammer, turning it into pebbles and boulders which were swept downstream. An embedded rebar cage likely would have prevented the damage.

Photos I've seen of the huge hole in the spillway suggest she is correct. You could park several SUVs in that hole.

Intellectual Blindness

Steven Hayward, a regular Power Line contributor who's also an academic, quotes at length a column by former Stanford University provost John Etchemendy which appeared in Stanford News. What he is quoted as writing is so on-target I echo the excerpts here in their entirety.
Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.

This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument. But when we do, we abandon what is great about this institution we serve. . .

We need to encourage real diversity of thought in the professoriate, and that will be even harder to achieve. It is hard for anyone to acknowledge high-quality work when that work is at odds, perhaps opposed, to one’s own deeply held beliefs. But we all need worthy opponents to challenge us in our search for truth. It is absolutely essential to the quality of our enterprise.
Etchemendy is absolutely correct, of course. Universities have become left-wing endoctrination camps where differing views are anathema. As our new President would say, it's sad.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nestle Flees CA

One of the stories COTTonLINE follows is the self-inflicted decline of the DrsC's native state - California. Investor's Business Daily reports the following:
Nestle USA is moving its headquarters from Glendale, Calif., a pocket suburb just miles from downtown Los Angeles, to Rosslyn, Va., near Washington, D.C., and taking 1,200 California jobs with it. Why? As many companies have found, California is an awful place to do business.

Nestle and its corporate brethren in California that actually make things are overtaxed and overregulated, and elected officials treat them not as honored members of the community but as rapacious pirates.
One by one the corporate headquarters and manufacturing plants shut down and head east. Nobody in a position of authority in CA seems to care.

Can CA make a living from Silicon Valley tech and affluent retirees? It becomes apparent they intend to try.

ICYMI: The Latter-Day Mandarins

Instapundit links to a four year old Megan McArdle column for The Daily Beast about the elites who end up running things. A choice excerpt:
This ostensibly meritocratic system increasingly selects from those with enough wealth and connections to first, understand the system, and second, prepare the right credentials to enter it—as I believe it also did in Imperial China. And like all elites, they believe that they not only rule because they can, but because they should. Even many quite left-wing folks do not fundamentally question the idea that the world should be run by highly verbal people who test well and turn their work in on time.
Both DrsC are clear examples of "highly verbal people who test well and turn in their work on time." The "ostensibly meritocratic system" certainly paid off well for us. Whether it should have is another question entirely.

The Basic Division

The American Interest website writes anonymous home truth about what divides us as Americans. Hat tip to Instapundit Glenn Reynolds for the link.
The basic division in American politics today is not over the merits of President Trump.(snip)The division is between those who think that before Trump, things were going just fine and the American elite was doing an excellent job, and those who blame the rise of Trump on the failures and blindness of the so-called “meritocratic elite” who, they would argue, have been running the country into the ground.
I agree with their diagnosis if not with their qualms about Team Trump. On its performance, in my view, the verdict will remain out for the next year or two. Let's see what they can do.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Merkel Doubles Down

The Daily Mail (U.K.) reports German Chancellor Angela Merkel has doubled down on her pro-immigrant policy. It reports as follows:
Angela Merkel has urged Europe to take in more refugees and said Islam is 'not the source of terror'. Speaking at the Munich security conference, the German chancellor said Europe has an obligation to take displaced refugees from Syria and Iraq.
She's still clueless after all these years. It's likely German voters will render a negative verdict on her bid for re-election.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trump Actions Popular

While the old media describe the Trump administration as a disaster, the people who elected him hold  quite another view. USA Today cites findings from a Morning Consult/Politico poll which show this clearly.
The Trump executive orders deemed most controversial by commentators and the news media actually enjoy the approval of either majorities or clear pluralities of Americans registered to vote. Ending federal support for sanctuary cities tops the list: 55% of those surveyed endorse the idea, and only 33% oppose it. The border wall wins by 48% to 42%, the deep-sixing of the Pacific trade deal by 47% to 33%.

The Politico poll found that 55% of registered voters support the (7 Muslim country) travel ban, while only 38% disapprove.
Author Charlotte Allen concludes:
Trump has managed to do something that no U.S. president, even Reagan, has been able to do in recent decades: bring to a screeching halt, if only temporarily, the reign of a globalist, virtue-signaling elite that has gained control of every social and cultural institution, the political establishment (including many Republicans), the news media, the universities, the entertainment industry, even corporations.
That is no small achievement, one long overdue.

CA on Wrong Track

The Los Angeles Times was originally conservative, but has been reliably left-wing for the past few decades. When it runs an op-ed by conservative historian Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution, you have to know something is afoot.

Californians are beginning to question the implicit priorities revealed by the ramshackle state of Oroville Dam. It is exactly these which Hanson describes.
The poor condition of the dam is almost too good a metaphor for the condition of the state as a whole; its possible failure is a reflection of California’s civic decline.

A new generation of Californians — without much memory of floods or what unirrigated California was like before its aqueducts — had the luxury to envision the state’s existing water projects in a radically new light: as environmental errors.

The crisis at Oroville is a third act in the state’s history: One majestic generation built great dams, a second enjoyed them while they aged, and a third fiddles as they now erode.
I couldn't agree more. Hindsight will reveal the Sierra Club to be either the death of our civil life, or very nearly so. It's too late to make CA a nature preserve; we have to make it instead a place where people can live practically.

Former Governor Pat Brown, not his son and current Governor Jerry Brown, should be our model. Finish the water projects, build more reservoirs,  generate hydropower. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link.

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Housecleaning at State

SecState Rex Tillerson has laid off a number of high-level staffers, effective immediately. Reading between the lines, I'd guess he suspects some of the sniping at former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn either originated there or was facilitated there.

Those let go are political appointees, not civil servants. He has every right, and in fact a duty, to replace them with his own appointments - people loyal to him, not to Clinton/Kerry. People in short who support the Trump-Tillerson agenda.

For more on this action, see a CBS News story and/or a New York Post story, depending on whether you'd like an anti- or pro- slant to the tale. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link.

Press Ruined Own Reputation

Occasionally, someone reliably on the left slips and says something revealingly acccurate. The cynical call these lapses "gaffes."

The Washington Examiner reports one such, and posts the video to prove it. The "oops" in question happened as conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewed CBS newsguy John Dickerson. Hewitt said of Trump's news conference comment about press bias reducing public trust in media:
But that one comment, they don't trust you anymore, is a summation of where we are in America, because I really do think Manhattan-Beltway elites have lost the country.
Dickerson responded:
Yes, it's true, and it's not because of anything obviously Donald Trump did. The press did all that good work ruining its reputation on its own.
In politics that is called "being off-message" and it's seldom rewarded. Hat tip to Drudge Report for the link.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Whither Berlin?

COTTonLINE has been following the story of NATO member nations' defense spending shortfalls. Now PoliticoEU writes that German defense spending is the key.
If Berlin commits to spending the recommended 2 percent of GDP on defense, it would add $30 billion of defense spending in Europe — a large share of the $100 billion surplus that would be generated if all European members and Canada met their targets. The move would significantly boost European defense.
All this because Germany is the richest country in NATO. Other European powers are ambivalent about Germany remilitarizing. They were on the receiving end of German military might in two world wars, and have no desire for an encore.

Politically Incorrect

RealClearPolicy looks at research which tries to tease out the relationships among race, poverty, and violent crime. What was found profoundly violates political correctness norms.
Black and white census tracts have slightly higher violent crime rates as the level of census tract poverty increases. However, at each poverty concentration level, the violent crime rate is substantially higher in black than in white census tracts. Moreover, there are many Hispanic census tracts with high poverty concentration levels but relatively low rates of violent crime.
Meanwhile other researchers found:
The same patterns when looking at the relationship between unemployment and violent crime rates. Holding unemployment rates constant, black census tracts had much higher violent crime rates than either white or Hispanic ones.
Given the far-too-high numbers of young black men murdered by other young black men in our cities, the findings are not especially surprising.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mattis Tells 'Em

Former general and current Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis, speaking to assembled defense chiefs at NATO, as quoted by the Daily Mail (U.K.):
No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values. Americans cannot care more for your children's future security than you do.
Lots of NATO members, including wealthy Germany, do not spend on defense the 2% of GDP they're obligated to spend by the NATO treaty to which all are signatories. Hat tip to Lucianne.com for the link.

Flynn Out

National Security Advisor Mike Flynn has resigned, after his calls became public knowledge thanks to the FBI. The Democrat "Resistance" can claim this scalp. It's a minor win for them, effectively a successful rear-guard action in an overall retreat, to use a military metaphor.

Looks like Trump will have to get tougher about nailing civil service leakers and he must get rid of all the holdover political appointees ASAP, even if it leaves temporary holes. There are other qualified people and, if appointed now, whatever they were up to pre-inauguration will be of less moment as they were not Trump insiders at the time.